In Belize today, if you are an average person and big people decide to hurt you or kill you, there is not that much that you can do. The most important thing is to become aware of the danger that you are in, and then to make yourself as small a target as possible.
In my column last weekend, I tried to explain that big people can make it so that there is no real difference between the underworld and the “overworld.” It is the overworld to which citizens look for protection when they feel threatened by the underworld, but big people have the power to compromise the overworld in different ways, so that then the average citizen is left to his own devices, so to speak.
When my generation was growing up in British Honduras, we believed that the colony was safer for the average citizen than the independent republics around us – Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west, and Honduras to the south. Because of the Mexican Revolution between 1910 and 1940, that society had become less oligarchic than Guatemala and Honduras, but the rise of the drug cartels in Mexico has demonstrably weakened the ability of the Mexican federal government to administrate a justice system where citizens can feel equal before an effective law. It has always been the case, it appears, that in Guatemala and Honduras big people can do to small people whatever they feel like doing, and do it with impunity.
Kareem Clarke was a prominent Belizean journalist who did not know how prominent he had become, and hence the danger that he was in. He had risen too fast in the journalism field. In just two years he had transformed himself from a nonentity in the streets to an expert in the newspaper, radio, and television professions.
When I wrote my newspaper column last week, I had become aware of a couple warning signs in my personal situation. I have been living a certain way for many, many years, because of things that have happened in my adult lifetime. Belize’s two major political parties – the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), are always making a lot of threatening noises against each other, but they have the advantages of size and official respectability which protect them from each other. The UDP and the PUP are constitutional components of Belize’s recognized parliamentary democracy. Since I entered public life some 46 years ago, there have been separate periods when our media system has been in alliance with one of these two parties, especially when the other party has become too powerful and too abusive, but overall the Kremandala system has been independent of the UDP and the PUP, and therefore we are forced to rely on the direct support of the Belizean people. The official institutions are not always there for us.
Kareem Clarke’s movements on his bicycle in the late hours of Sunday night, July 5, and the early hours of Monday morning, July 6, indicate that he was completely unaware of any personal danger. Kareem was an innocent. He was a roots youth who had gotten big so quickly he had not made all the adjustments. During the midnight hours to which we referred, Kareem entered known, notorious gang territory on the Southside. This territory has become even more violent than usual, because there has been a power struggle in which some members of the same family have become enemies of each other. There has been a police checkpoint at the corner of Vernon Street and Mayflower Street for some months now, so that that gang dispute has been more or less controlled. The exact status of that checkpoint at the specific midnight hour is of interest, because Kareem Clarke was gunned down just a block away, as the crow flies.
On its Tuesday evening, July 7, newscast, KREM Television released a surveillance tape recorded by the camera of a neighborhood business. The surveillance tape is dynamite, because it raises very serious questions about the movements and behaviors of two police mobile vehicles in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Kareem Clarke.
The reaction of Belize’s media community to the outrage of Kareem’s execution has been a source of comfort and encouragement. The media is powerful in Belize, especially when media workers cooperate, and the media is powerful in the region and in the world. If it is established that Kareem Clarke was killed in his capacity as a working journalist, then there may be investigative assistance forthcoming.
Unfortunately, a lot of time has already been lost, if we are to judge from the American television shows aired in Belize which detail the early investigative approach to capital crimes by the police departments in American cities. But, we owe it to Kareem Clarke to follow this story/investigation as far and as long as we can. Kareem was a fine, young Belizean whose growth in journalism was sensational, so much so that I myself, as chairman of Kremandala, was not fully aware of his rise.
As it is now, it is impossible to replace Kareem Clarke at Kremandala. He was special. I am devastated by his murder. He was much loved.