Hundreds of Belize City residents are currently up in arms following the implementation of a once dormant law which has now come into effect as Belize City police have begun to seize both bicycles and cyclists who lack bell and light.
The move has affected hundreds of cyclists, mostly the poor whose bicycles are in fact their “vehicles.”
Police have said that the move is an attempt to get a handle on a wave of violent city shootings and murders in the recent past; however, affected citizens are of the opinion that these are petty offenses and that they are being unfairly targeted by police who do not exercise any discretion in the performance of their duties.
Since the start of the month, a contingent of police officers and BDF soldiers have been deployed along main thoroughfares across the city to monitor persons who hang out on the street side, persons drinking in public, along with persons found to be guilty of the aforementioned bike offences, but many of the people who have gotten arrested and charged for what are known as “quality of life crimes” simply do not believe that the law is serving its purpose.
Nevertheless, Deputy Officer Commanding Belize City Police Precinct 2, ASP Calbert Flowers, insisted that the department needs to show the public that they are serious about upholding the law by trying to fix the big problems, starting with the small and often overlooked misdemeanor offences.
He said, “These are crimes that are in our laws and we are just starting to enforce them. These are petty misdemeanor offences that have been overlooked for quite some time. We have been trying all different approaches to try to combat this violence, this crime in Belize City. So we are approaching them from the smallest offence up to the largest. We won’t overlook anything at this time. So, we want to warn the public that riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is an offence, riding a bicycle contrary to traffic, without light, without bell, without brakes, is an offense. And the police will continue to do this operation to target these people. We know that some innocent people will be inconvenienced, but we urge people to come on board and do the right thing.”
And sure enough, there has been constant public uproar from the numerous individuals who have been “inconvenienced” and subjected to incarceration in the wake of overnight and unannounced operations held by police.
On an average, almost 80 people are being arraigned in the Magistrate’s Court on a daily basis for bike offences, and over 120 for loitering or public drinking – crimes for which you pay a fine if found guilty – since the operation was launched.
Today, Amandala caught up with several of the affected persons to get their sentiments on the crackdown, and the majority were irate because they generally feel that the enforcement is absurd because innocent, hardworking, law-abiding citizens are being treated like hardened criminals, and to make it worse, they end up with a criminal record at the end of the day, while the actual criminals roam free.
One of the young men, who told us his name was “Alex”, said that he was on his way to work last night when he was pulled over, and although he had a light for his bike, it was still confiscated because he did not have a bell, even though he tried to explain that he is a poor person and had not been in a position to buy a bell until today.
Another youth, who did not provide his name, said that he uses his bike to sell ideals, and believes that police picked on him because of the area in which he lives.
He stated, “Nothing nuh dih go on with me. All of us out here are poor people. I di try do something positive, but I feel that this system just di take advantage of we.
Straight up. Da nuh like we want to break the law; we understand what the police are trying to do, but they should at least give us a break or a warning before they chance we like this. They need to understand that sometimes we barely could afford to buy food, and now dey di try tek the little bit of money that we have. How are we to survive?”
The individuals whom we met at the Municipal Court No. 8 on North Front Street were openly vocal and displeased, claiming that the law is senseless because it will not deter the real criminals who have contributed to the recent spike in gang-related crime and violence in Belize City.
Most of the people we spoke with were arrested for bicycle offenses, and Joseph Hemsley, who was also at court among the crowd, mentioned that his bicycle was impounded, and even though the arresting officer promised him that he would not be charged and only needed to bring a receipt showing ownership, he was presented with a summons instructing him to attend court on a deferred date in order to be prosecuted for the misdemeanor.
According to ASP Flowers, all the police’s efforts are aimed at combating the escalating crime situation in Belize City, and while bicycles have been used to commit murders, they are also targeting public drinking and loitering to sound the message that it is not legal to drink alcohol and to hang out on the streetside in Belize City.
As for the affected city residents, the general consensus is that a warning or grace period should be issued before bike riders or other petty crime offenders are charged, because the ones who get caught in the criminal web for those classes of offences are either the working class or poor people who are basically being unfairly targeted.
We attempted to speak to the Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar, to find out more about the crackdown and the rationale behind it, but our attempts were unsuccessful.