A Sunday evening, March 25, confrontation between armed members of the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) and the Mayflower/Banak community could have become a bloodbath. It is a small miracle that it did not. Seven members of the GSU marched into the Sandra Uter yard on Mayflower Street which was the center of the post-funeral mourning for Kendis Flowers, Sandra Uter’s grandson and a leader of the Ghost Town Crips. The GSU had come to apprehend an individual they believed had fired shots into the air during Kendis’ funeral by way of a gun salute to the young deceased. When one of the GSU aggressively grabbed that individual, the Mayflower/Banak community reacted violently in his defense.
We can say in retrospect that it would not have cost the Police Department much to wait for the mourning to come to an end and for the community to disperse before making the arrest. In fact, the police have been known to send messages to individuals whom they desire to apprehend, asking said individuals to report to their headquarters. In this case, the GSU, confident to the point of arrogance in their firepower superiority, marched into a community which was in complete solidarity in mourning Kendis’ murder. The GSU disrespected the Mayflower/Banak community, and a kind of crazy chaos erupted.
We assume that the police commanders who gave the order for a GSU offensive on Mayflower/Banak felt they were acting pre-emptively to bring an immediate end to whatever gunfire in honor of the fallen Kendis. That would have been a reasonable feeling. The problem was that Kendis Flowers’ family (and the Mayflower/Banak community overall) had given reasons why they believed that the said GSU may have somehow been involved in Kendis Flowers’ murder on the early morning of Saturday, March 17. (The Police Department has denied this.) So when the community saw the GSU personnel marching into Sandra Uter’s yard on Sunday evening, March 25, they were seeing red immediately.
The purpose of this editorial is not to examine the causes and effects of what occurred on Mayflower Street on Sunday evening. Rather, our larger purpose is to give some historical sociological background for the benefit of some of our readers, at home and abroad, who don’t have the slightest idea who the Mayflower/Banak residents are.
Forty years ago the Mayflower/Banak community was producing championship football teams in local competitions, beginning with Berger 404 in 1975, followed by Chito’s Rangers a few years later, then Duurly’s in the 1980s. By the middle 1990s, however, Mayflower/Banak began to be dominated by the Ghost Town Crips gang.
If you look at a map of Belize City’s Southside, you will realize that the Southside, which features the “Belize whites” and upper classes on Southern Foreshore, begins to become more working class and more black in skin color as the city, Belize’s population center and previously known as Belize Town, expands westwards. (There was one point in the last century, in fact, when the Southside actually ended, for all intents and purposes, at Pound Yard.)
The Pound Yard Bridge crosses Collet Canal, which runs south from the Haulover Creek, through the said Pound Yard area all the way to the Yarborough Bridge, where it empties into the Caribbean Sea. On the western side of Collet Canal, where the bus terminal and the Michael Finnegan Market are now located, there used to be the local slaughterhouse, a busy center of socio-economic activity until the slaughterhouse was closed down in the late 1970s and moved outside of Belize City. The roots slaughterhouse became a modern “abattoir.”
West of Collet Canal was an area of mangrove swamps and creeks known as Prisoner Creek. This would have been northwest of Pound Yard. The nationalist People’s United Party (PUP) government filled this area in the late 1950s/early 1960s, and issued house lots to working class Belizeans. The PUP changed the name of Prisoner Creek to Lake Independence. Mayflower/Banak became the high-profile centerpiece of Lake Independence.
The late Lester “Bailar” Smith, the patriarch of the Smith family and of football in the Lake, was a Mayflower Street pioneer who was a butcher at the old slaughterhouse and in the original Belize City market. The matriarch of another prominent Mayflower Street family, the Uters, was the late Deltrude Uter (Sandra Uter’s mother), the common-law wife of the late Alvin Diamond, to whom Miguel Zayden willed control of Mike’s Club after Mr. Mike’s death. (A third prominent family was the McCaulays, who produced national track-and-field and football stars.)
It would be interesting to study how the tearing down of the West Collet Canal slaughterhouse and the move of related activities to a so-called abattoir outside of the old capital, affected Belize City butchers like Bailar Smith. The impact must surely have been negative. Again, it would be interesting to study how the introduction of gambling casinos and slot machines in Belize City in 1999, supposedly only for the enjoyment of foreign tourists, affected the business of local gambling clubs like Mike’s. The impact must surely have been negative.
When Belizeans in more comfortable situations ask the question, as they must surely do, why is the Mayflower/Banak community behaving like this, they should understand that these were once strong, proud, and hopeful Belizeans. They have remained strong and proud, but the chances are that hope has turned to frustration and anger.
There are Belize City communities similar to Mayflower/Banak insofar as the transition from hope to frustration and anger is concerned. These are the communities which have given birth to gangs, and these are the communities which the Government of Belize has decided to designate as “emergency areas,” the purpose being to give state security forces more freedom to operate therein.
The thing is, Belize’s security forces already have a lot of freedom to operate. Operational freedom is not the problem Belize’s crime fighters face. The biggest problem is the judicial system’s inability to secure convictions in serious crimes because, in many cases, of the hostility of the relevant community members. Designating their neighborhoods as “emergency areas” is sure to increase the anti-social resentment of these communities.
In late 1972, the UBAD Party and its Amandala newspaper were forced to move into makeshift wooden housing on Partridge Street. We completed our original one-flat ferro-concrete building on Partridge in 1973. Mayflower/Banak is just a few short blocks east of us.
We have seen beautiful, happy babies become bitter, hardened killers over the decades. People ask: well, what happened, and what can be done about 2018’s dread state of affairs? We have to insist that the hopefully non-partisan academics in Belize examine some critical decision making by ruling politicians of the two major parties through the years. In one case, that of the original National Service Corps concept back in 1992, the problem was rejection of a visionary idea by the ruling PUP Cabinet. The National Service Corps idea, recently revived rhetorically by a couple UDP politicians, was the brainchild of Charles B. Hyde, a member of the 1992 Crimes Commission. In 1992, gang activity in Belize City was only a few years old. One PUP politician, who later became one of the greatest embezzlers of public funds in Belize’s history, condemned the National Service Corps idea in 1992 as “too expensive.” So, how do you calculate the cost of all the bloodshed and heartache since then?
Last week we editorialized about a humanitarian crisis in Southside Belize City. We’re not making up stories here. We saw beautiful, happy babies become bitter, hardened killers over the decades. It’s been hard to believe sometimes. Politicians have made bad, selfish decisions over the years, and the upshot of their bad, selfish decisions has been that more fortunate Belizeans began to discriminate against less fortunate ones.
All of us are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. That is what all the religions around here teach. Many Belizeans, however, only behave religiously when they are in church. Belize is so small that our homicides often amount to suicides. We are killing our own blood. Now the rulers have brought in a fancy foundation from the Northside. No one ever asked Partridge Street anything. It is what it is.
Power to the people.