The stunning news which broke around noon on Saturday that two-time Crosscountry champion and longtime Santino’s employee, Ernest “Jawmaine” Meighan, had been shot in the head and killed on George Street, brought the immediate reaction in most Belize City residents that this must have been some kind of retaliation for the sensational murder, just one week before, of a 16-year-old Wesley College graduate for which one of the cyclist’s daughters had been charged.
This was, however, not necessarily the case. There was talk that one or two of Jawmaine’s close relatives, well known to the law, may have been involved in a murder around 4 a.m. the Saturday morning, so that Jawmaine’s murder may have been retaliation for that instead of retaliation for the Chryslin Gladden murder a week earlier.
We have said to you before in these pages that Crosscountry in Belize is a kind of religion, and it is a fact that Crosscountry champions are treated with reverence, as sacred figures in Belizean society for the length of their natural lives. No Crosscountry champion has ever been murdered before. Jawmaine had close relatives who were living the gang life, but he himself was completely separate from them and he had always appeared to be above it all, untouchable.
It was academically established a few years ago that the levels of violence/murder on the Southside of Belize City qualify the Southside to be classified as a zone of civil war, if we were to use the mathematical model utilized by the United Nations. When it was that Belizeans who would have to be considered civilians, began to become targets, it is really difficult to say. But that has seemed to be the case for some years now.
The justice system has broken down on the Southside, so a lot of the violence which is taking place can be considered street justice. Twenty years ago, a United Democratic Party (UDP) government in which Hon. Dean Barrow was Deputy Prime Minister, held a well publicized peace conference at Bird’s Isle in which leaders of the major Belize City gangs participated. All of these leaders are now dead, have been dead for some time. The civil war on the Southside is a war of gangs. The gangs have frightened the rest of the Southside community into silence and paralysis.
The gang configurations have splintered over the quarter century since the basic Crips versus Bloods rivalry reached Belize from Los Angeles. Things have become quite a bit more complex in today’s gangland, but things are also quite a bit more savage. Now, civilians are no longer safe.
Belize City is not that big a municipality, and the academics have essentially proven that inner-city violence among youth is directly related to visible socio-economic problems. There are enlightened, intelligent ways to approach such socio-economic problems, but enlightenment and intelligence in these matters are often condemned as “soft,” and the proponents of such approaches are sometimes scorned as “bleeding heart liberals.” With respect to Belize City’s problems, the ruling classes decided, by and large, to take the iron fist approach. Security companies have become a huge growth industry, while guard dogs, cameras, and electronic alarm systems have become the order of the day in upscale residential areas. This was the route which our neighbor to the west, Guatemala, had taken many decades ago, and now rich Guatemalans have to lock themselves indoors for fear of the Guatemalan poor.
The root problem on the Southside, we submit, is the church-state educational system. More than half of our children drop out of school while they are still legally children, and they have acquired no skills with which to make a living. The school system in Belize every year sends thousands of young people into the streets to become candidates for gang jobs. There are just a few scholars, of which we only remember two – former Cabinet Minister Assad Shoman and the late Dr. Leroy Taegar, who have dared to place the blame where it ultimately lies – on the inefficient, failed church-state school system.
More than two decades ago, this newspaper proposed and supported sports programs as an emergency, stop gap measure to control the bleeding. Powerful elements of Belize’s black bourgeoisie who are still prominent in the ruling UDP, immediately said no, in a categorical manner: education, they declared, was the answer, the only answer. Fair enough, but if these “leaders” cannot see that this Jesus, Mary, and Joseph education system condemns half our children every year to gang realities, then these are people who do not see very well.
There are power realities to consider, of course. Through the churches, the minds of Belizean students are controlled from foreign desks by means of foreign textbooks and curricula. There is a form of colonialism involved with our education system. We would prefer to say “white supremacy,” but such a description provokes fearful knee jerk responses. Let’s settle for “mental colonialism.”
The bureaucrats in charge of Belize’s schools are the most “safety first” Belizeans you would ever want to meet. It is by following safety first guidelines that they reached the positions where they make decisions. They will continue making the decisions they have always made, and in the streets nothing will change in the foreseeable future. There are just too many child soldiers available for gang recruitment every year. Many casualties, more recruits. The Southside savagery continues …