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Law and Order after Lisa

EditorialLaw and Order after Lisa

“Ah hear ‘Putum BOOM!!’, and the crowd start to scatter!” — from “Ten To One Is Murder,” by The Mighty Sparrow

Sunday, November 6, 2022

On Thursday, November 3, a day after Hurricane Lisa had lambasted Belize City with over 90 miles-per-hour winds, Prime Minister John Briceño announced a “7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew … on the entirety of the Belize District, with the exception of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, from Thursday, November 3, until Sunday, November 6.”

He explained that it was Cabinet’s decision “to institute a curfew at night because certain areas of the city still do not have electricity,” and it was “to be able to keep things safe.” And as darkness enveloped almost the entire city after nightfall, there was rightly an air of understanding and appreciation of the decision among the general population. This is quite evident from the lack of any complaints about the inconvenience of the curfew from callers to local talk shows in the days following, as the multi-agency cleanup campaign continued daily at a frenetic pace. By the end of the curfew period tonight, Sunday, electricity and street lights as well as water had been restored to almost all of Belize City and surrounding villages.

The vast majority of Belizeans are law-abiding, and despite occasional complaints about police brutality or abuse of their authority, most citizens would much prefer to live in a society with law and order being enforced by police, than in a situation where there is no lawful authority, and those inclined to violent and boorish behavior can brazenly invade and disturb the peaceful coexistence of law-abiding citizens going about their daily business.

In the modern, civilized world of 2022, much has been said about the rights of the child, and the negative effects of corporal punishment. The Bible says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die” (Proverbs 23:13). But today’s experts have consistently equated corporal punishment with “violence”; and thus, with the influence of first world donors and the international human rights organizations, corporal punishment has been removed from our schools. This is a very controversial topic, and while it is generally acknowledged that “violence begets violence,” it can also be argued that breaking the cycle of violence may sometimes require stern physical measures.

The reality that we need to face in our “Third World” developing country, is that we currently have two co-existing social realities. Just as it has been said that we have a “parallel economy,” so we also have a category of individuals who exist in a world of illegal transactions where violent force or the threat of such is what maintains an apparent peace, that is occasionally broken with cold-blooded executions “for no apparent reason.” Both worlds occupy the same space; we walk the same streets, shop at the same stores, attend similar recreational events; but every now and then the difference surfaces in the actions and behavior of those living in “another world.”

There are many hardworking Belizean citizens who go about their daily tasks with sincerity and hope for a better tomorrow. They live and work to provide the sustenance for their children by “the sweat of their brow,” whatever their honest occupations; and all in their own way make a positive contribution to the betterment of our Jewel.

Even those in “another world” who are engaged at various levels of the “parallel economy” also make their contribution to the nation through the sharing of their earnings with friends and relatives. Some poverty is also alleviated by the contributions of these “soldiers” whose only “heavy lifting” involves the movement of cash or illegal drugs.

However, one unavoidable aspect of this type of occupation that thrives on gang affiliations, is that it is currently illegal, and thus matters have to be settled “in house” rather than seeking assistance from the police. The murder rate is so high in Belize because in this category of individuals involved in this type of business, serious differences often lead to deadly violence rather than court action.

Moreover, the situation is compounded because “one thing leads to another”, and with the proliferation of small firearms in the illegal drug business, those weapons soon also become available for hold-ups, robberies, home invasions, and the like.

It is said that when the prophet Muhammad was “born in Mecca, the capital city of Arabia, about 570, He found Himself in the midst of a people consisting of a hundred warlike tribes, inheriting a tradition of polytheism, who had resisted all efforts at evangelization and who regarded battle as the only occupation fit for men. Such was the race whom Muhammad was to convert to monotheism and to unify into an unbreakable band of brothers, their unity being based on their religious faith.” (from George Townsends’s Christ and Baha’u’llah)

There is a time for everything, and a situation sometimes demands stern action.

Townsend quotes T.W. Arnold in “The Preaching of Islam,” where he said, “The Arab tribes were thus impelled to give in their submission to the Prophet, not merely as the head of the strongest military force in Arabia, but as the exponent of a theory of social life that was making all others weak and ineffective. Muhammad had succeeded in introducing into the anarchical society of his time a sentiment of national unity, a consciousness of rights and duties towards one another such as the Arabs had not felt before” (pp. 40-41).

In Belize, our politicians and police have tried many things to solve our crime and violence situation, which has much to do with poverty, and maybe more to do with illegal drugs, but a new approach may be needed. First, they must get the attention of this category of individuals who currently have no fear of “prison” and so are bold in their anti-social behavior.

In the middle of the street at the southern end of the Michael Finnegan market this past Saturday, some animosity had apparently developed between one young man and another person, and it involved the vicious throwing of a number of pint bottles, and then a bike being thrust at the adversary, and soon another young man was joining in the fracas, and another, and the madness of the two warring groups was hurtling down the street northwards toward the main market entrance where peaceful shoppers began retreating in awe, when suddenly, “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!!!” The loud gunshots were from nearby, as market shoppers on the street began rushing for safety inside the market stalls, while one frightened combatant was tripping and falling down on the street and scrambling back to his feet, and running for his life. All was soon calm, as the warring factions disappeared to who knows where; and normalcy returned to the market. There was no blood on the street, as apparently no one was hurt. Warning shots they must have been, perhaps by a disgusted market vendor, as no uniformed police officer was visible.

For many years following the catastrophic Hurricane Hattie of October 31, 1961, Belizeans would refer to events in our lifetime as having occurred “before Hattie” or “after Hattie.” It had changed our lives so dramatically, that it had become a benchmark for any other occurrence, like B.C. and A.D. This Lisa was not as cataclysmic as Hattie, but coming as she did right on the heels of the dreaded Covid, the second November will likely be a benchmark in the lives of many young Belizeans, certainly those of Belize City. Give thanks for no loss of life from Lisa! But on the eve of Lisa, another cold-blooded execution occurred, this one in New Site, Dangriga. We do need to take stock of ourselves as a people, Belizeans, and seriously determine how we want to go forward in addressing the genocidal path on which we’ve been trodding over the past three decades.

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