Two teenaged students were separately, critically injured by gunfire on the Southside of Belize City on Monday night, June 22, and Wednesday night, June 24, respectively. Tarique Thompson, 15, a second form high school student, was shot on Monday on Lakeview Street and died over the weekend. Ruben Leslie, 16, was shot at the corner of Magazine Road and Banak Street on Wednesday, and continues to fight for his life.
A few years ago, it was established by professional academic research that the frequency of gun violence and murder on the Southside of Belize City has reached civil war levels, if we use the measuring stick for such matters used by the United Nations. Nowhere in the nation-state of Belize have young boys and young men been dying at the rate they have been dying on the Southside. The irony of the situation is that nowhere in Belize is there the concentration of powerful Government Cabinet Ministers that there is on the Southside. There are six historically Southside political constituencies, and a seventh constituency which had been exclusively Northside since 1961, became partially Southside for the first time in 2008. That is Pickstock, which sent Foreign Minister/Attorney General Wilfred Elrington to the House of Representatives in the 2008 and 2012 general elections. The longtime Southside constituencies are Queen’s Square, Mesopotamia, Port Loyola, Albert, Collet, and Lake Independence. These constituencies sent in 2012, in that order, Prime Minister/Minister of Finance Dean Barrow, Housing Minister Michael Finnegan, Local Development Minister Anthony Martinez, Junior Minister Herman Longsworth, Education/Sports/Youth Minister Patrick Faber, and Junior Minister Mark King to the House of Representatives and the Cabinet Room.
The seven Cabinet Ministers to whom we referred are all black (all but one being Creole), and, except for the Lake Independence area representative, they all won their seats by huge margins in the 2012 general election, on the platform of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP).
The first logical question one would have to ask is, how come the Southside is in such a terribly violent crisis if their political representatives are so powerful in the Government of Belize. And the second logical question one has to ask is, why is the political option to the ruling UDP – the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), so weak on the Southside, so unattractive to Southside voters.
Psychological survival for Southside residents has meant learning to become numb to the repeated bursts of crazy bloodshed around them. But the UDP Southside area representatives do not reside on the Southside, so they are not awakened at night by the automatic weapon gunfire and the screaming sirens of the police vehicles and the ambulances. There is no indication of any serious sense of urgency on the part of these seven named gentlemen. They who have the power and the circumstances, yea the responsibility, to examine and ameliorate the conditions which have contributed to the personal and family tragedies on the Southside, give all indications of being in a state of equanimity, sometimes even nonchalance.
The fact of the matter is that these men who are in charge of the Belize state’s disciplinary apparatus have been unable to apprehend the murderers, and in the few cases where they have apprehended same, have been unable to convict them. The Southside is worse than the Wild West of American cowboy movies. In the so-called Wild West, there were only “six-shooters” in the hands of grown men. On today’s Southside, we have machine guns and grenades in the hands of Belizean children. Why is the situation on the Southside not a declared national emergency?
The same seven who are unable to control the murderous violence on the Southside ten days ago led the ruling party into an ethnic backlash when a black Belizean, a new resident in the Maya village of Santa Cruz in the Toledo District, was publicly disciplined by Santa Cruz’s village leaders and villagers. There are criminals on the Southside who would benefit from some Maya justice. That is for sure.
The Police Department is swamped with Southside murder and violence cases. We understand that. But one had to expect that the critical wounding of the teenaged Southside students within two days and inside an area where the Monday night shooting is just a short city block away from the Wednesday night shooting, would have set off official alarm bells. The two really disturbing shooting incidents did not set off any official alarm bells. The relevant UDP politicians are complacent, and the police are beleaguered.
In the House of Representatives on Friday morning, when the entire nation of Belize expected a dramatic, heated debate on issues of urgent national concern, the Opposition PUP chose to walk out of the House because one of their Senators was expelled from the visitors’ gallery by the Speaker of the House. Listen, Mr. PUP, the Speaker’s authority in the House is absolute. What were you thinking, Mr. PUP?
Perhaps this was a piece which actually belonged in the Southside puzzle. The PUP have abdicated their responsibilities on the Southside. They have allowed the UDP to enjoy a free run. And so, the gunfire goes on and on and on …
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie.