Most Belizeans know that bullying is a part of our culture, and that it is one of the worst things about us. We bully, and that includes making sport of people who we perceive to be weaker than we are.
We can’t say definitively where this bullying culture derived from, but we know the European whites, with their superior weaponry and belief that people who weren’t white were inferior human beings, bullied people who were brown or black. We know that based on the European-imposed system we had, to a large extent still have, a culture where we put down people because of the color of their skins and the texture of their hair.
All Belizeans who were born in this country grew up under the threat of a bully neighbor to our west and south. This neighbor, who happens to have the strongest army in Central America, and is increasing the strength of its force, has relentlessly pursued our territory. We’ve known bullying from the former colonial master, and we know bullying from Guatemala; maybe that has affected our individual psyches, made us feel so small we have a need to bolster our egos, and of course the easiest way to do that is to do unto others what has been done to us.
There have been many studies done to find out why young people bully. The website, www.healthdirect.gov.au lists: wanting to dominate others and improve their social status, having low self-esteem, having a lack of remorse or failing to recognize their behavior as a problem, feeling angry or frustrated, struggling socially, and being the victim of bullying themselves, as reasons why some young people take advantage of others.
We know that efforts are being made all over the world to curb the culture of bullying in the young, but in Belize we also need to put emphasis on old bullies. It is desperately needed in our country. In Belize, old bullies are running unfettered.
In Belize, making sport of human beings who are not as strong as we are (less wealthy, lower job rank, physically weaker, intellectually less sharp) is common. We see bullying in the House of Representatives, where leaders get into very shameful bullying tactics to frighten people away from investigating or commenting on their activities.
We have what is described as a “spoils system”. It is known that the party that claims government will skirt all the checks in the system so they can hand all the big contracts to their major supporters. Victimization is embedded in the spoils system. If you are not close to the party in power, or if you buck them about anything they do or fail to do, you get punished. What our leaders do filters down to us regular folk. Our leaders are the number one perpetuators of bullying.
The massive recent failure of the police at the Queen Street Police Station that led to the death of a man has turned some negative light in the direction of that department, and the three officers who were on duty are being hung out to dry, being made an example of. What those three officers did, which was bullying, making sport of others, is not new to the department.
It has been said for decades that it is modus operandi for police officers to take a perceived gang member from his neighborhood and deposit him in a neighborhood where they are sure to get a good beating, or even be killed. The objective of this practice isn’t entirely worthless; it is to instill fear in would-be gang members so they change their course. That, however, makes the police behave as judge and jury, and it should not be condoned or ignored by the state.
A caller to KREM Radio’s WuB show on Tuesday morning said that it is a practice of some prison officers to place young prisoners in cells with homosexuals who have exhibited vicious tendencies. That is a bully tactic. Setting up prisoners to be raped is a decision made outside of the legal system. Our courts have never handed down a custodial sentence which stipulated anything other than the time during which the person should be deprived of their freedom.
It is documented in other parts of the world what goes on inside prisons. Homosexuality as it pertains to prisons is a complex matter, but there is no shortage of studies by concerned organizations which show how prison authorities can keep rape to a minimum. The court stipulates incarceration; it never orders rape as part of the punishment of any prisoner.
For many years the authorities maintained the filth at the Queen Street detention center to bully regular folk from coming in contact with the law, and they didn’t clean it up until an officer who was placed in detention took pictures and circulated them on social media.
Police officers and other authorities on the outside use fear of rape in the prison as a tool to keep citizens on the straight and narrow. We fear going to prison because we know what the state will allow, encourage to be done to us. Some authorities on the inside, prison officers, use rape to punish prisoners, or for purely sadistic reasons, bullying. Our country turns a blind eye to these criminal activities.
Those officers who were on duty, in charge of the Queen Street Police Station, were following through on what has been standard, the modus operandi for years and years.
The present Commissioner of Police expressed shame and regret over what they did, when they placed a young, mentally ill man who had exhibited serious violent tendencies in confinement with a much older man who had behavioral problems. However, the Commissioner had to have known about the conditions at the detention center, and what police often do to hyperactive persons to bring them to heel. He has said he has zero tolerance for bullying.
The police naturally have experienced some disappointment with the justice system because their work is routinely discarded when they go to court. They must feel helpless, and this might be what causes some of them to become bullies, to take the law into their own hands (depositing perceived gang members in enemy territory), and what might have led them to make a poor decision at the Queen Street Police Station that led to the horrific beating death of a man.
The present Commissioner has some excuse from blame because he just took over the top job at the department. He, like all commissioners before him, could be considered a political appointee (although he could dispute this). Some of these commissioners have not been able to disguise the fact that they heel to political authorities before they are concerned with the people’s business.
Our state is responsible for the death of Nestor Vasquez, Jr., at the Queen Street Police Station, and our state is guilty of countless other vicious crimes. Why do we need a sensational story, in full public view, before we change things that are well within our grasp, easy to change? How could we just discover that we need padded walls for detainees who are experiencing mental difficulties?
Change, when it comes from the bottom, oftentimes explodes into a bloody revolution. Why can’t we get sixteen leaders in the House of Representatives who see that the present course has us foundering on the rocks, and we have to change tack and repair all that is wrong or we will lose the dream of a beautiful country?
We, the people of this country, are not the sport of our leaders. The strong must stop taking advantage of the less strong in Belize.