My late mother-in-law was a quiet person, and one of the sweetest human beings you could have known. But every now and then in family conversation, someone will remark on acts of extremely harsh discipline which she had imposed on her two sons, especially her younger son, who was tough and strong.
My own mother kept us children (she had five sons before she gave birth to her first daughter) in our yard at the corner of Regent Street West and West Canal Street. We had to play against each other, and the games almost always ended in fights, whereupon we older boys would get beaten. My mom was young and strong.
One time my mom told my dad that she was tired of beating us, and that it was also his responsibility, that he should take a turn at it. But my dad was not competent in this particular physical exercise, and soon ceased and desisted.
I have a theory that the women of British Honduras were generally savage to their male children because they knew that discipline was an absolute necessity if the son was not to end up brutalized, even hanged, by the colonial system.
British Honduras was a cruel and brutal place, very quiet on the face of it. The British authorities invariably hanged natives who were found guilty of murder; they beat teenagers with tamarind whips; and there were instances of convicted sex offenders being beaten to death in prison with something called a cat o’ nine tails.
There was a benefit to this violent colonial rule, and it was that we could walk the streets safely at any hour of the night. Young lovers on their way home from movies could neck anywhere they chose without fear of interference. Nowadays, of course, the young people avoid the dangers of the streets by moving in motor vehicles. None of us had cars back then.
I remember as a child living on Church Street, a few houses down from Duck Lane (where the Government Printers used to be and then the Hofius Hardware warehouse at Duck Lane’s corner with Orange Street), that where Duck Lane crossed Orange Street into the section of it which led to Water Lane, it was a fearsome and frightening street. And Water Lane, well, that was a notorious street, where there were several rum shops, and only the toughest of the tough hung out.
In Belize today, there are many citizens, both trained and untrained, who consider themselves experts on the violent sociological crisis which has afflicted Belize, especially the population center, for more than three decades. Since this crisis began in the late 1980s, Belize has experienced five changes of government, from PUP to UDP to PUP to UDP to PUP, so the fundamental problem cannot be ascribed to the incompetence, so to speak, of any of the two major political parties. This is a systemic problem.
I have said to you that the judicial system has failed, and that can be analyzed in strictly mathematical terms, where the percentage of cases that lead to conviction and punishment is concerned.
Tony Wright, an untrained but very insightful commentator, has said that our problem, as he sees it, began with political independence. The thought is almost frightening, because independence was supposed to be Belizeans’ Holy Grail, that which we desired the most, and that which we surely believed would solve our problems.
But, the bottom line is that discipline had not been a problem in British Honduras. Our problem had been economics. We were poor, where the material things of the First World were concerned. We wanted a First World standard of living. One reason we did was because many of our people were going to live in the United States, and we Belizeans began to love the American “finish” more and more. We considered nature and the environment to be primitive and backward. We placed American consumer goods on the highest of pedestals.
Belizeans’ drive for independence (self-rule) and psychological journey to America began in 1950, for argument’s sake. There was a class of people here, mostly of a lighter skin color and mostly Belize City-based, who were satisfied, even happy, with the colonial rule of the British. But, they were a minority, and they were collaborating with a system which denigrated their own African ancestors. The collaborators with the British held the colonial disciplinary system in high esteem. Hang the brutes.
As Belizeans began to enjoy more self-rule (beginning with self-government in 1964), the British began to lighten their iron hand on us. The first Belizean Commissioner of Police, Arthur Adolphus, was appointed around 1968. Nothing appeared to change in the disciplinary system.
But, as we look back, there was this case where a prominent local businessman shot his younger neighbor dead in broad daylight on Regent Street, of all streets. This was in the early/mid 1970s. He was not remanded to Her Majesty’s Prison. The “system” concocted a story of a heart condition afflicting the accused. So, he was given a bed to “convalesce” in at the old Belize City Hospital on Eve Street. The memory of the Belizean people being of limited duration, it was not long before the accused went home to his own bed. He did not spend a day in Her Majesty’s.
Let us pretend that Noel Bowers was not hanged in 1985. There has been no hanging since, and the last hanging before that was in 1981, when a Jamaican worker, Seymour Thomas, was hanged in the summer that year of the Heads of Agreement. There were some of us Belizeans, perhaps being only suspicious, that thought maybe the authorities were using the Thomas hanging to intimidate the young Heads of Agreement insurgents.
I knew a building contractor named Samuel Warrior, now deceased. He swore to me that Seymour Thomas had been in his employ, and that he did not see how the man could possibly have committed the murder, which took place around Miles 38, 39 on the then Western Highway.
There have been no instances of capital punishment here since 1985. The conviction rate for murder is extremely low. Witnesses to murder are absolutely scared of testifying. High-powered guns are everywhere. Vigilante justice took over decades ago.
The European Union, the same people who enslaved and colonized us, essentially the same people who used to hang us, have told Belizeans that there is to be no capital punishment here, or they will impose trade sanctions upon us. Their argument is based on something called “human rights.”
Belizeans who oppose capital punishment argue that it is always poor, working-class citizens who are hanged. Point.
But today, Sunday, October 24, 2021, Belize is in a state of fear. We are afraid of our own youth. We insist on celebrating independence as if it was really the Holy Grail. Myself, I am inclined to agree with Tony Wright. Something went wrong back there.