Editorial — 25 May 2019
Cruel Irony: our country’s guilt

The next person who is brought before the court for a “revenge murder” should sue the state for negligence in delivering justice. Revenge murder is a too-real story in Belize. If you don’t believe that, listen carefully to ASP Cowo, ACP Myvett, and Inspector Ferrufino when they speak at the next police brief at the Raccoon Street Police Station after a murder has been committed in certain areas of the country. They will say, Police will be beefing up their presence in the area to prevent retaliation for the murder that has just occurred. All too often the murder that has just been committed is in retaliation for a murder that went unpunished by the state.

Belize’s Police Department couldn’t keep up with the violence in the country over the past weekend. The reports we have are that over a three-day span, Friday to Sunday, there were nine shootings with two dead, and one stabbing, all that in a country whose national anthem declares it a “tranquil haven of democracy.” At the time the national anthem was penned more than seventy-five years ago by Belizean hero Samuel Haynes, Belize was one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Oh, how things have changed.

Things didn’t change in Belize overnight. The downward slide really began shortly after independence (in 1981), when Belize, for the first time, fully enlisted in the Americans’ war against drugs. Our records show that the murder total reached triple digits for the first time in 2008, and over the last four years it has been over 130.

It is written in the Good Book that murder should not go unpunished. GENESIS 4:10 says, “The Lord said (to Cain), ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground’”, and GENESIS 9:6 says: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed…” (quotes from the New International Version (NIV) Bible)

The records show that Belize put away the death penalty a long time ago, the last person to die by hanging being Kent Bowers, who was put to death in 1985.

Deathpenaltyworldwide.com says that in July 2015 “the Supreme Court of Belize overturned the death sentence of the last remaining person on death row, finding that his sentence was unconstitutional. No death sentences have been handed down since 2005.”

The drug war caused the murder rate in Belize to skyrocket, and murders connected to the drug trade made good business for trial lawyers. About the same time there was an increase in murders, a country in which an arrest for murder was an almost automatic conviction for murder became a country in which an arrest for murder became almost a show. The conviction rate for murder in Belize is now one of the lowest in the world. That is a fact.

In this sorry climate, living in a country with one of the worst murder rates in the world, grieving mothers of victims either cry out for justice from the state, or say they leave the matter in the hands of God. There have been, and we don’t have words to describe this phenomenon, mothers who offer prayers for the killers of their children, and words of forgiveness.

The response of male friends and family of victims is registered in the murder rate of the country. In the Book of GENESIS, it is said that the blood of victims scream from the earth for justice. In a state which gives little or no justice, there are many murders.

The Europeans, who have attached their philosophies to all aid packages and trade agreements with Belize, have concluded that the death sentence is not a deterrent to murder. They say all their studies have arrived at this conclusion. They insist.

The European External Action Service (BE), website eeas.europa.eu, says, “Although widely known, it is never too much to repeat our position. The European Union and its Member-States oppose the capital punishment in all times and in all circumstances. The death penalty undermines human dignity and makes any miscarriage of justice irreversible and fatal. Furthermore, the death penalty does not have any proven deterrent effect.

“Abolition of death penalty is an explicit and absolute condition to become a Member of the European Union and also a prerequisite for membership to the Council of Europe…This is a policy area where there is a strong consensus within the European Union and it constitutes a priority of the EU’s external action.”

Amnesty International, at www.amnesty.org, says, “The death penalty is discriminatory. It is often used against the most vulnerable in society, including the poor, ethnic and religious minorities, and people with mental disabilities. Some governments use it to silence their opponents. Where justice systems are flawed and unfair trials rife, the risk of executing an innocent person is ever present.

“There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than a prison term. In fact, crime figures from countries which have banned the death penalty have not risen. In some cases they have actually gone down.”

Our young lawyers return from studies in the Caribbean with the philosophy that it is better for ten, even a hundred murderers to go free than for one innocent person to be hung or die from some other form of capital punishment. That concern, that an innocent person could be executed by the state, doesn’t exist anymore because we have put away the death penalty.

Amnesty International said that the prison term is sufficiently effective punishment. In Belize we have the answer to the question of what happens when a state doesn’t have the death penalty and the prison term is rarely applied.

The lawyers in Belize have a very good idea how many murders committed in Belize are revenge crimes. The Commissioner of Police has a very good idea too. When the Commissioner said he knows more or less everything that is going on in the world of crime in our country, he wasn’t talking out of his hat. The police know what is going on in our country.

If citizens believed that the state would give them and their deceased loved ones justice after a murder, they would most likely not “take the law into their own hands.” Belize has abdicated its responsibility, and the cruel irony is that it has done so to prevent the state making a mistake and incarcerating an innocent man. We would have thought that the state would be less worried about such an occurrence.

Belize is guilty of failure to create economic opportunities for many of our people, a prime environment for criminal behavior. Belize’s failure to address crime helps create an environment that stymies economic opportunity. It is a vicious situation that takes us down, down, down.

We are asking the impossible of our regular police. Our detectives are underequipped. Our prosecution branch is handicapped because the underequipped detectives can’t deliver the information they need. In Belize the trial lawyers are sailing to victory after victory in court, while we are mired in damnation.

Belize is in full compliance with orders from abroad and local consciences, and has been so since 1985. Other countries that have banished capital punishment have not given up on justice. They invest the necessary energy to prevent murder, and when a murder occurs they work overtime to bring the killer to justice.

There must be sufficient punishment for the crime of murder, punishment sufficient to discourage the need for individuals to seek revenge. It is stunning, cruel irony that what started out as a fear of putting an innocent man to death has led to the murders of many, and made murderers of many who would be free of blood on their hands if the state had done its duty, which is, give justice.

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Deshawn Swasey

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