Latest — 08 September 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
Opposition leader Briceño says government’s “heavy-handedness” is not going to work

He also criticized the fact that Belize City Mayor, Bernard Wagner was not informed or consulted about the state of emergency in two areas of the city.

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 5, 2018– The Leader of the Opposition, the People’s United Party (PUP), Hon. John Briceño, called a press briefing at his Belize City office this afternoon in response to the Ministry of National Security’s decision to declare two areas on the south side of Belize City as areas where “a public emergency” exists.

The areas where the Ministry of National Security has declared that a public emergency exists in its Statutory Instrument No 49 of 2018, are the areas bordering on the turf of the Ghost Town Gangs on Mayflower and Vernon Streets, Lake View Street and Banak Street and the George Street gang on the lower section of that street and the immediate area of Plues Street.

Police have also confirmed that they have taken about 100 persons in custody, most of whom they believe have criminal gang affiliation. They will be held for a month under the emergency powers of the proclamation.

In his opening remarks, Briceño expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that Belize City mayor, Bernard Wagner, who appeared at the press brief beside him, was not consulted about the proclamation and only found out about it after it was announced to the press.

Hon. Briceño said that the drastic step by government to declare a state of public emergency on the south side of Belize City “is a clear admission of their inability to handle the crime situation.”

“…the Acting Commissioner stated in this morning’s press conference that the situation is getting out of control,” Hon. Briceño said.

Responding to that remark by the Acting Police Commissioner, Briceño said: “No, Sir, the situation is out of control!”

Briceño, quoting “sources” in the independent media, said that there have been 106 murders for this year, with 15 of them being in the month of August alone.

He said he did not agree with the response by the government and police.

“Locking up gang members will not do anything to address the poverty and inequality on the south side of Belize City,” he said. “It will not address the number of young people who are on the streets instead of being in school. We need to look at this problem from a holistic point of view. We need to do more. We have been asking the government for so long, let us sit down and come up with ideas. If we have to put in the necessary funding in that area to turn things around, let’s do it. We are talking about lives,” he pleaded.

“You are reaping what you have sown. The government has abandoned and neglected southside Belize City, and today, we are seeing the price of that abandonment, of using the south side just for politics and not making the necessary changes to transform the lives of the people…” he said.

Commenting on the declaration of the state of public emergency, Hon. Briceño said, “This is not the answer. The PUP would not have gone down this road because we would have been addressing this issue way back. Yes, we need to make sure we keep law and order in the area, but at the same time, it is more than that.”

“We have a lot of unemployed people in the south side,” Hon. Briceño said. He then remarked, “We have a lot of young people who are not going to school because their families cannot afford it. We have a lot of anger where people believe that their children or their family members have been innocently killed, and they have nowhere that they can go to.

“We should be having counseling centers… It is not a matter of declaring a state of emergency and going in there and infringe on people’s constitutional rights and grabbing everyone on the streets and locking them up, because one month later, when you release them, what will happen?”

“Locking up gang members for a month will not do anything to address the poverty and inequality on the south side of Belize City,” said Hon. Briceño.

Hon. Briceño explained that this is not an issue that the Opposition will play politics with.

“I don’t want anyone to think for one minute that we are trying to play politics with this, and that we are trying to cozy up to the gang elements and to the criminal elements in this thing, because we need to go after them and we need to go at them with everything that we have. We cannot have and we cannot allow a small handful of people terrorizing the people of this beautiful city of ours, Belize City…,” he said.

 “We will always be on the side of the Belizean people,” Hon. Briceño said. “We believe that we have to be there to protect and defend the Belizean people at all times. We accept that there is a massive, serious problem in this country when it comes to crime. We have been calling out the government for a very long time that we need to take a holistic approach. This heavy-handedness is not working,” he stated.

“We have GSU’s, all kind of U’s and different units in the police department, some of them dressing in military fatigue, with huge guns and batons. When they go in the south side, in many instances they terrorize and brutalize people, and what happens is that there is a push back from the community because they no longer see the police as a friend,” the Opposition Leader said.

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