“We want justice! We want peace!” was their collective cry.
Joined by a throng of concerned Belizeans were mourning citizens who had lost their loved ones to violence – their names and stories are familiar: You’ve seen them on the TV news, read about them in the newspapers, and listened to them on radio.
Crime, we shouldn’t have to tell you, is Belize’s greatest problem. On Sunday, March 21, residents of the nation’s largest – and most crime-ridden – city took to the busiest boulevard to air their concerns, to channel their grief, to rally a seemingly numb populace.
Central American Boulevard, which the almost 400 protestors walked in its entirety, has seen recent violence at nearly every street corner and turnoff. From the corner with Caesar Ridge Road – beyond which is Pre-Con Limited, owned by November 2009 murder victim Jason Coombs – to the edge of Belcan Bridge, on which Michelle Cattouse was slaughtered in February of 2008 – and in-between, the scars of gun violence remain fresh.
And so, the marchers had little to say. They let their banners, T-shirts adorned with the faces of victims – most frequently, Teddy Murrillo and Chris Galvez, whose friends and admirers made up a large part of the group – and the music on the accompanying big box, mostly “conscious reggae,” speak for them.
Whether you were part of the march, or stood on the sidelines, a city united on Sunday evening, a city tired of violence, a city frustrated with inaction, a city hoping to turn the corner, took action.
That message of hope and optimism amidst turmoil carried all the way down the Boulevard to the Civic Center yard, where despite howling wind and biting rain – memorably analogized by Oscar Rosado during his dignitaries’ acknowledgements as “the tears of joy cried by those we loved and lost raining on us from heaven” – the spirits of those present were lifted by simple yet powerful messages of unwavering optimism and hope.
The crowd was sufficiently upbeat to even applaud and serenade the late Andrew Wallace – killed at the age of 13 with 4 bullets – with “Happy Birthday.” Sunday, according to his mother, would have been his twenty-fifth birthday.
Yolanda Schakron—recently the recipient of unwelcomed news regarding the police’s handling of her late nephew Chris Galvez’ murder case—insisted that Belizeans for Justice (BOJ), a newly-formed non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the crime problem and finding solutions, was “in it for the long haul,” and advised cooperation with the Department. She did so even as she urged that the problem of corruption and injustice within the Department be tackled.
Schakron channeled the late Dr. Martin Luther King’s dictum to fellow Baptist ministers written from behind the walls of a Birmingham, Alabama, prison cell in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” in calling on Belizeans to oust the fear shown by witnesses to crime, and victims of crimes alike, which has allowed the guilty to walk free and unpunished.
Yvonne Husman-Moore, whose son Nadir was killed a few years ago, related the aims of BOJ and insisted that the organization would be non-partisan and solely dedicated to finding justice for the many slain.
Keynote speaker Danalyn Murrillo, mother of the late Teddy Murrillo, made a passionate plea for the nation to turn back to God and swore to achieve justice for her late son.
Speaking with Amandala after the march, Mrs. Murrillo called on citizens to report crime when they see it: “We have a right as citizens of this country to partake in the reporting of events taking place around us. . . . If you see something or know about anything going on, take a stand and do your part as [a] member of this country by reporting it.”
Political and other nationally-known figures largely took a backseat; Minister of National Security Hon. Carlos Perdomo was said to be present, as well as Mayor of Belize City Zenaida Moya-Flowers and several councilors; from the Opposition came PUP Party Leader Hon. John Briceño and party chair Carolyn Trench-Sandiford.
As the proceedings came to a premature end with mistress of ceremonies Sharon Marin singing the specially-written and dedicated song “We Miss You,” Amandala spoke with Chair of the Crime Control Commission Michael Young to hear his thoughts.
He reiterated that for the march to have lasting impact, the fight must be kept up on all fronts, and that the organizers, who represent a number of nascent organizations such as the Therese Felix Foundation and Mothers Organized for Peace, must be tireless and determined. “Don’t despair,” was the prominent attorney’s message for Belizeans who have lost faith.
The next major event to be organized, according to poet and community activist Erwin X, is a memorial service scheduled to be held in about two weeks.