Our penal system in Belize consists of two punishments: incarceration and fines. Primarily incarceration. Starting with life imprisonment for murder, continuing downward depending upon the descending order of comparative heinousness to a few months for misdemeanors as an alternative to paying a fine. This is the system in the European countries, who are our friends, models and benefactors.
It was not always so. Britain, for example, up to some years ago had capital and corporal punishment for specific crimes in addition to incarceration and fines. They have seen fit to abolish capital and corporal punishment. Before that they had little or no juvenile delinquency and no gangs. Now, they have them both. They have also embraced homosexuality, which they now consider as normal behavior. Are these signs of approaching decline in the once mighty British Empire?
Islamic countries and non-European countries alike have the same penal system which existed from the time of Moses, acknowledged as the Great Law giver, which employed capital and corporal punishment to preserve Peace and Order in their societies. You will observe that in those countries which retain the traditional forms of punishment, there are no gangs, a low level of violent crime and little or no juvenile delinquency.
Recently the citizens of the Twin Towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena came together as a body to protest against the increasing level of violent crime in their communities: specifically, three rape/murders and one infanticide, within what they considered to be a short period. They held public meetings to express their dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice System. Out of these meetings came a letter to the Prime Minister listing their demands for effective action by the Government. The Prime Minister responded by meeting two of their demands and, delegating the Honorable Attorney General to meet with the citizens of the Twin Towns to dismiss their other demands.
One of the demands that the town folk made in their letter to the Prime Minister was the reinstitution of the death penalty for murder. The petitioners know and, they said so in their letter, that when that was the penalty, there were very few murders. And, they believe that the penalty would be as effective now as it was then. They are convinced, as are almost all Belizeans, that capital punishment absolutely deters and so does corporal punishment.
The Honorable Sedi Elrington, Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs, met last week with the citizens of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, during which he pointed out two things to them. Firstly, he told them that their representations were based on four murders. He made a comparison by saying that since the year began, there were twenty more murders in the Pickstock Division, which he represents. No one has since disputed the AG’s figures, so, they must be correct. However, it would be reasonable for the Cayoans to inter that he was saying that their problem was small compared to his. Secondly, he told them that the European countries, who are our friends and benefactors, would strongly disapprove of our government’s re-instituting capital punishment, and they would take reprisals. Full stop. What other inference can the Cayoans draw from that response but, that the Government can’t re-introduce the death penalty and there was nothing that could be done that would be as effective so, bear patience and have hope.
So. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” I have to repeat myself. It is the first duty of the Government to protect the lives of its citizens. They can decide not to re-introduce the death penalty because it would upset our friends but, they have to find alternative measures which will be as effective as the death penalty to stop the murders and reverse the trend in violent crime.
These ideas are put forward in the hope that our government, knowing full well that there are no alternative measures as effective to combat violent crime and discourage young people bent on mischief, as capital and corporal punishment, will do some reconsidering. I have to ask, what can our European friends give us, or deny us, that will be more valuable than the Peace and Order, which the measures proposed by the townsfolk of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, will restore to us?
The Honorable Attorney General knows that there was much more suffering in his constituency, at the hands of violent criminals, than was experienced by the Cayoans during the past few months. Apparently, he was saying that the residents of Pickstock have more cause to be angry and, to make demands for effective action by the Government to prevent violent crime. The AG is right: we in Belize City have more cause but, we, like most citizens in the rest of the country, are like sheep. We possess our souls, in patience. We leave things in the hands of the shepherds (Government). We hope that they will do what has to be done, sooner rather than later. We are afraid to be victimized or made a victim. This is why the shepherds are allowed to drag their feet. This is why, up to the present, none of the initiatives taken by the government have made an impact on violent crime. By an “impact” is meant, first, a freeze in the level of violent crime and, then, a significant reduction in the incidence of such crimes.
What is wrong with the people of San Ignacio and Santa Elena? Do they think that they are better than the citizens of the Pickstock Division? Don’t they know that they are supposed to be sheep? If this is the AG’s take, there is nothing wrong with his thinking. It is perfectly logical. All law-abiding productive citizens of our country behave like sheep. How was he to know that the townsfolk of San Ignacio and Santa Elena are different from the rest of the country? Clearly, there must be some lions amongst them and, the lions have taken the lead and, the sheep have taken heart. I, for one, am glad to see that we have lions in the Cayo District and, they have a worthy cause to fight for. There are other lions amongst our countrymen and women, who have been dormant. Perhaps, up to now, they have not seen a cause worthy to fight for. Putting a stop to violent crime and restoring Peace and Order to our society is such a cause. The townspeople of San Ignacio and Santa Elena have begun this fight. Let us hope that our other citizen/lions will join them in this worthy cause.
The government of Belize has taken several initiatives in its efforts to curb crime. Restore Belize and CYDP are two very good programs which will serve us well in the long term. The idea of a negotiated gang truce does not appeal to me because; I don’t think we should negotiate with murderers. That the leaders of the gangs have killed is a reasonable assumption, since to kill someone earns credit for a gang member.
My better informed about the status quo associates say that it was a good initiative and they may be right. My associates and I are agreed, however, that establishment of the GSU was ill-conceived. Their function is like fighting fire with fire, while everyone agrees that the best way to fight fire is with water, preferably frozen and in large blocks, which commands respect and inspires fear in the ungodly. The fear of death does that. Also, the fear of pain. Trial by a single judge, without a jury, will be necessary for a while until the Administration of Justice System begins to function the way it should.
Let us assume that our government decides to reinstitute capital and corporal punishment in order to discharge its first duty and to restore Peace and Order in the nation, hopefully, before the murder rate reaches 200 per annum. The death penalty for murder and corporal punishment for rapists, juvenile delinquents and any crime that our society considers intolerable, like robbing schools and churches.
Penalties are useless if you can’t get convictions of accused offenders. Let us consider the present situation regarding murder cases. Murderers are acquitted or their cases are not brought to trial because witnesses are intimidated by the accused or his associates. What this amounts to, is a subversion of the justice system, which does as much harm to society as the murder itself. Subversion of the justice system by intimidating witnesses should be declared a special offence to be tried immediately. This practice would stop if the penalty for the offence were corporal punishment, which, our experience has shown, absolutely deters. You may say which witness in fear of his life will report such a threat. My answer is, “Not all of us are sheep.” All that is needed is one successful prosecution and one offender suffers the penalty. It would make a desirable change.
Corporal punishment is the appropriate penalty for rape, which has become frequent. It need not be as cruel as it was in the Forties. The shame and indignity will deter as much as the pain. The penalty should not be mandatory. Let the judges decide which offenders should suffer it.
Finally. We have to put a stop to juvenile delinquency. There is a lot of it going on that is unreported. These young people are on the route to become criminals. They have no respect for authority, their elders, parents, teachers or rules. Parents and teachers can’t control them. Only the state is left to exercise discipline over them by employing the Rod of Correction.