CAYE CAULKER, Thurs. June 11, 2015–The atmosphere was charged with emotion on the island of Caye Caulker last night as at least 200 concerned citizens came out in spite of a drenching downpour to display their unwavering support for the family of Hilbert “Ketchi” Sotz, 18, who died while in police custody three days ago.
In the wake of his death, a host of Caye Caulker residents who had gotten wind that his death was as a result of police brutality protested in anger, which led to a confrontation with police officers who were deployed to quell the situation later that evening.
Yesterday, however, some of those same residents were joined by comrades from San Pedro, as well as a group of expatriates who all share the same aversion to the upsetting and successive incidents of blatant, excessive abuse of authority by cops on the island.
The protesters decided to hold a peaceful candlelight vigil which, according to one of the organizers, Deon Green, is a means of healing the community after the loss of a promising young life due to a culture of police brutality across the country, which often goes unchecked.
He said, “The people got tired and came out in numbers to show that because they wanted answers, because it’s not an isolated incident; it’s an ongoing thing with the police here on the island. We are trying to bring let them realize that we did get something accomplished by everybody coming out [on Monday].”
“That kid didn’t deserve to go the way he went. We need justice and this is just to show that we are not a people of violence. We came out [on Monday] because we are tired of these ongoing incidents with police. There is a leadership void on the island for the last 18 months and we need some form of healing.
This tragedy has brought us together and we hope it stays that way. The issue of people throwing bottles [on Monday] was frustration from people wanting something to be done, and nothing was done. We need a level playing field; all we are asking for is justice and equal treatment,” he went on to say.
The victim’s father, Santorino Sotz, and his family are still extremely grief-stricken by the loss of Santorino’s eldest son, but were very grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.
“The people see what the police have done to us; they [the police] feel that they own the world and that they can take advantage of us, so we’re standing up because we want justice.
They killed my son without a cause and he didn’t commit any crime. They cut his life for nothing, and it hurts me because I can’t get back my son,” he said as he burst into tears.
When we asked the grieving father how he plans to move on from the tragedy, he explained that he does not know as yet, but he knows that he will have to do so for the sake of his other three young children.
A valiant crew of San Pedranos braved stormy weather and rough seas to reach Caye Caulker to be a part of the initiative.
Many of them were individuals who have been affected by police brutality or crime and violence in the past, and they were certainly not afraid to share their own stories of unfulfilled expectations from the justice system, which they believe provides no justice at all.
Among them was an emotional Susanna Eiley, whose son, Jeffery Eiley, 30, a tour guide, was shot to death after an altercation with another tour guide in San Pedro in March of 2014.
She told us that her intention is to show solidarity with the Sotz family.
“I got wet up on the way [due to the rain] but I came here because I know the pain that these people are going through, since my son was also brutally murdered”, she mentioned.
Former PUP Belize Rural South area representative, Patty Arceo, was also there to express condolences to the family, and she told us why.
“In San Pedro and Caye Caulker, we have been witnessing injustices and people want to cooperate with police, but they are experiencing many problems trying to do so. It is unfortunate that a life was lost, and it seems that that is the only way that authorities will listen. What has happened is unfortunate, and we want a better and safer community, so I feel obligated to support. I just hope that they bring good officers to patrol the area after this”, she explained.
Another San Pedro resident, Santos Acosta, said that it is time for the excessive use of force to stop, but added that it will only happen when authorities step in to ensure that citizens are protected and the value of life is understood.
“I am saddened and disappointed by what has happened, because I don’t know why they did this to this child. We need to have respect for each other and I think that that is what is lacking in the Police Department; they need to have proper training and counseling skills, because they give a service to our people”, said vice chair of the Caye Caulker Village Council, Enelda Rosado, who urged residents to remain peaceful and to come together to restore the sense of community that once prevailed on the island.
After about an hour of marching through the principal streets of Caye Caulker, the vigil ended where it started, at the Central Park, which is situated next to the Caye Caulker Police Station.