On the Southside of Belize City, sad truth be told, we have gotten used to losing our young men. The gang wars have been going on for more than a quarter century now, and the larger Southside community has been forced to develop emotional calluses. There are only so many tears we can shed. On this side of the Haulover Creek, there is a lot of blood and gore and death. In a sense, death has become our way of life.
Wednesday’s Southside tragedy had a new twist. This time a young Southside lady, a 22-year-old graduate of Anglican Cathedral College, ends up as the tragic victim. To graduate from high school when you come from the Southside, it means you had faith in the system. You paid your personal dues and your family paid your school fees. You kept your nose clean, and you believed in whatever God you were being offered. You didn’t become a hooker or a female gang banger. You had ambition and pride. But then, you couldn’t get a job.
You are a sensitive child, so after a while this begins to bother you. Were all the years of school worth it? You begin to have issues with your self-esteem. Your Southside environment is depressing; the news is mostly negative. And so, you begin to have issues with anxiety. You receive treatment for this anxiety. But, the socio-economic conditions which sparked your anxiety do not improve. You lose your confidence. Your family members worry about you; but then some of the worry turns to shame. Things get worse.
The anxiety is very bad on Tuesday evening, so your mom takes you to the public hospital for treatment. If there were some money in your family, this would not be a terminal problem: you would be treated by a private doctor and given a prescription to fill at a pharmacist. But your family is short of money, so you have to go to the public hospital and seek free medication. The people at the hospital have seen you there before; they know what your problem is, so there is no urgency involved in their assessment of your situation. You are not an emergency, like a gunshot victim. You wait hour after hour. Remember now, you are already in severe anxiety. That anxiety grows and grows until it becomes outright panic, and you have to run. Anywhere.
In the morning, they fish you out of the Haulover Creek, and that fishing makes the headlines on the television evening news. The news is not about the depressing conditions which made you a victim. The story is about your problem. The story includes speculation about what actually happened to you in between the time you ran from your mom and an uncaring public institution, and when you ended up among the fishes in the river.
Andrea Herbert, 22, is a tragedy of her family, but Andrea Herbert is also a tragedy of the nation-state of Belize. In the colonial days, there were strong families on the Southside of Belize City. The people of the Southside did not look to the state for help, because British Honduras was a colonial state: we looked to ourselves, which is to say, we looked to our families. We fought to survive.
The coming of self-government in 1964 changed our perspective. The government now belonged to us, the Belizean people, and we could complain to our area representatives. The Belizean state was responsible for us, this was the feeling that grew amongst Belizeans as we headed to independence in 1981. This feeling was growing at the exact same time that our Southside families were being seriously weakened by work migration to the United States.
The human derelicts we pass on the Southside streets are not seen by most of us as, in the first instance, an indictment of our family structure. Most of us on the Southside, trying to make our own way amidst all the stress, try not to focus on the derelicts. Those of us who do, however, will appreciate that the derelicts are members of specific Southside families.
It is only when our families are unable or unwilling to provide for struggling or helpless individuals that these individuals become the responsibility of the state. When Andrea Herbert’s mom took her to the public hospital on Tuesday evening, it was because she was forced to turn to the state. The state failed her, and the state failed her daughter.
We do not consider the state of affairs on the Southside an acceptable one. At this newspaper, however, we have passed the stage of this PUDP “piti-pat.” We insist that our readers look behind the PUDP scenes and recognize that there is a largely invisible power structure which operates this puppet show.
Most Southside people turn to God for answers. The God they turn to is a God designed in Rome and Canterbury. The God they turn to has been used in Belize as a cover for the system of cruelty and injustice for centuries. The God our people are turning to is not the God Jesus Christ preached about in the New Testament. On Tuesday night, there was no Good Samaritan to save Andrea Herbert. Should we just “leave this to God”?
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.