In all forms of government, and particularly in democracies, the State holds a monopoly on the use of force. The right to use deadly force is afforded to ordinary citizens in a very narrow set of circumstances, such as self-defence and the defence of one’s property. Since it is the State that holds the monopoly on the use of force, citizens rightfully expect that in exercising this monopoly the Government (and by extension its agents) will act with restraint and within the confines of the law. Where they fail to do so swift and appropriate actions must be taken to deal with the offenders in order to prevent the emergence of a culture of abuse.
The brutal slaying of the George Street Four and the subsequent accusation that it was the Gang Suppression Unit (agents of the State) who perpetuated this unprecedented act, is cause for grave concern. However you may feel about the four men, and about George Street, and about gangs in general, the undeniable fact is that four men were MURDERED; allegedly at the hands of the State. Though we all hope that the allegations are false, the truth is that some elements of the security forces have become more and more abusive towards the Belizean people over the last decade. The political masters of the security forces seem either unwilling or unable to effectively address this issue. It is therefore in this context that the allegations against the State, in relation to the George Street Four, have taken on the traction that they have.
The sad reality in all of this, besides the loss of four lives, is that there are many good and decent members of the Police Department who make great sacrifices on our behalf on a daily basis. These officers deserve to have this ugly veil of accusation removed from the Department, because for as long as these allegations remain in place and disproved, it sullies the reputation and standing of all police officers.
The Government thus far has done little to satisfy the Belizean people beyond a shadow of a doubt that the security forces were not involved. The Government seems to have taken the legal premise that he who accuses, must prove. But this matter is not before a court of law, it is before the court of public opinion and in this court the burden of proof has shifted to the accused (the State).
If one wishes to be honest, then one has to agree that the manner in which the Government has handled this matter so far is troubling. It appears that the State decided the very same day of the murders, without even a preliminary investigation, that the allegations of police involvement are false. The conduct of a police-led investigation would therefore be futile, since in the words of the Commissioner of Police, he does not believe that his officers “would resort to those sorts of things”. He went on further to state that he is “certain that the investigation if it is successful would disprove that belief,” meaning the belief held by the residents of George Street. In the world of international diplomacy there is a widely subscribed-to tenet: trust, but verify! The COMPOL may have every right to place his trust in his officers, but he owes the Belizean people a duty to verify that none of his officers were involved in these murders.
However, in the face of these statements by the COMPOL, how can the Belizean people feel confident that any investigation conducted by the police into the allegations made by the residents of George Street will be fair and thorough?
The murder of any of our citizens is a great crime against the State, but the murder of citizens at the hands of the State is a matter that threatens the very foundation of a democracy. Given the public pandemonium that was created by the George Street murders and the subsequent charges levied against the State, the Government owes the Belizean people a thorough and independent investigation into this matter.
LFS Burnham (of Guyana) once said, “Only the master can call off the dogs”. The Belizean people need to know whose dogs were out on the night of January 7, 2013. Plain and simple.
Major Lloyd Jones