“I am saying that once we get into government in 2013, we are going to tackle the issue of crime head on. We are going to come up with some new and innovative plans that will include not only ourselves but the Opposition, the churches, the NGOs, the business community, because this is an issue that can be addressed not only short-term but also in the long term. It’s going to be a long-term process for us to really change to turn things around.” — Hon. Juan Antonio Briceno, News 5 2010
I suppose I write about crime a lot in this not-so-regular column. It’s almost always when a heinous crime happens to someone who I saw everyday while home, or a child who had no business dying at the hand of a gun. No child deserves that really. I wrote about murder when a childhood friend of mine was killed, I wrote about crime when a toddler was shot in their house while sleeping, next to their mother. I write about crime today, when 35 people have been killed in the Belize district as compared to the national total of 79. 31 of those Belize district homicides occurring in Belize City across the 4 precincts, a geographic space no larger than 14 square miles. Thirty-one, that’s a murder rate of parliamentary proportions, but do parliamentarians, especially those who represent Belize City care about this endemic issue that plagues old capital streets?
I read a hilarious article the other day that was published by a former minister of government in another newspaper. It was funny to me, because it seems like only in hindsight is his vision 2020 as it relates to addressing the violence which dominated his own constituency for a very long time. Even if he did, crime and violence operate as an ecosystem. When communities do not possess the requisite attention they need for social and economic development, crime thrives. When the Government of Belize builds plycem houses, poorly engineered culverts, and cement streets, we are still often slain on them. Our streets are stained with possibilities. I digress. In the Prime Minister’s recent address in light of the sweltering and depressing murders of our young, he mentioned that for two decades, less than 500 gang members have been terrorizing Belize City. His solutions were longer State of Emergencies, more police surveillance, which the BLU plan said means more police substations and four thousand more police nationally. He also mentioned that more access to social intervention programs and access to free education would be on the prescription.
Notice how specific the Prime Minister was in naming particular policing actions and how vague he was in naming socio-economic stabilizing actions. I like to go directly where the money is, because, as I’ve said time and again, where we budget our money tells me what we prioritize. For that I ask you to spend some time on the part of the budget book that tells us how much money the government spends on policing and prisons and then go and see how much is spent on Restore Belize, the Youth Department, Conscious Youth Development Program, YouthRISE, Youth Community Transformation, and humor yourself. Now, there are good public servants who work within these spaces, but without the resourcing and political will to get work done, there’s not much that can be done but to occupy your space within the recurrent budget.
The conceptualization of Leadership Intervention Unit is a good start, I think. It seeks to coordinate both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to direct resources into communities and populations that need it the most. However, it also has an implementation mandate that is all-encompassing, from recidivism to mediation to social programs to police reform. While that in theory is lauded, we find that we as a people, have not mastered ambidexterity. Everybody can do something, but everybody cannot do everything. This is of course a precursor assessment of the initiative and thus incomplete at this juncture.
I grew up and my heart remains in a place where “duppy making,” as my history lecturer calls it, has become an industry, urban terrorism is rampant, and the community’s relationship with police is tense, to say the least. That ecosystem is no place to raise a family, where they are forced to simply survive rather thrive. The anomalies who “make it” cannot be seen as the markers of success, because our friends are dead, our cousins missing, our mothers traumatized, our children forced to process constant trauma. How is it a reality that it’seasier for me to run drugs than to run a track?
Belize City Southside is the most socio-economically studied area and demographic in the country; the evidence to inform policy and programs exists. The NGOs exist. International partners ready to work with serious and legitimate agencies exist. The Harlem Children’s Zone is just across the waters, ready and willing to share best practices. We can curb and eradicate the violence and crime issue if we fund it enough, if we put in some elbow grease in a targeted and COORDINATED way. Our area representatives of Southside Belize City have to care. We have to be more than a place where media houses come to document just how much of a broken place we are. We will lose more children, but the work of the next decade begins today as the virus of low social capital rips through my home.
We have got to extend our vision onto and beyond our blind side.
My condolences to the families of the children we have lost over the year and to the children themselves who have transitioned. To the family of Michael Henry, my distinct condolences. I watched your son play basketball and dominate the court every summer at the Belize City Council’s Summer League. On my commute home, I have seen him often on the football field in our community be an absolute star with finesse that cannot be replicated. I am sorry that you must navigate this unexplainable loss.
“I read a story the other day about a boy from the projects…He’d been killed in a gang fight at Hurt Village. In the last paragraph they talked about his superb athletic skills and how different his life might have been…He was twenty-one years old the day he died. It was his birthday. That could have been anyone.” The Blind Side, 2009