Over the past few decades, the catastropic levels of crime and violence in Belize City might not have reached its current state had the politicos, their stalwarts and political parties dedicated similar collective campaign-level energies, organizational strategies, and resources to tackle the dire socio-economic conditions in their constituencies. With the hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be quickly secured during election campaigns, and hundreds of millions later secured for government’s priority infrastructure development, one wonders if it was impossible for area representatives to muster material, technical and other support to alleviate the dire economic and social conditions affecting the most vulnerable families and youths in their constituencies.
It cannot be that they were so visionless in regard to the need for a radical change in the status quo which has resulted in the murder of hundreds of young black males over the past decades. A disproportionately high number of imprisoned youths are also from those constituencies. Too many boys who were merely innocent toddlers a few years ago have grown to become violent teenage and adult criminals. Over decades, the representatives of these vulnerable areas must have been able to recognize the need for urgent, sustained intervention to tackle the degrading conditions that breed crime and violence. Or so we hoped.
Year after year, elections after elections, decade after decade, since colonialism, an increasing number of families in Belize City, especially Afro-Belizean families, seem not to be able to secure opportunities to uplift themselves from dire poverty, squalor living conditions, undernourishment, various forms of socio-economic neglect, persistent forms of discrimination and devaluation of the human spirit. Many Afro-Belizeans who can, flee to greener pastures abroad for good; they and their offspring never to return.
Is it too much to ask of the representatives to muster all necessary human, organizational, and material resources to wage a sustained campaign (including on print and audio-visual media platforms) for peace, healing, better interpersonal relations, and to improve the conditions that have been breeding the crises of frustration in Belize City?
The appalling levels of crime and violence are only the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper crisis. As we have seen over years, these conditions cannot be simply prayed away. These human-created conditions call for direct human intervention with a different mindset than the ones creating and perpetuating same.
Belizean society is falling apart – politically, socially, economically and morally. At its core are increasingly broken individuals and families; a broken political system in which political parties have persistently disappointed and further saddled the masses with corruption and debt; uninspiring and meaningless theological chattering and rituals of religious institutions; dysfunctional leadership; a socially alienating and environmentally destructive economic system; weak justice system; and an increasingly lost generation of youths, many of whom are unaware, disconnected, discouraged, disempowered and apathetic about their country’s socio-economic and political future. Leadership examples shown to youths by the elders in various institutions, tend to be suspect in many cases. What exactly are the long-term goals? What are the strategies for human development and social transformation of southside Belize City?
Crime and violence are manifestations of deeply and persistently mangled, hurt individuals who are devoid of respect for life. The criminals did not arrive at that state overnight. These mental states were left to brew over years through dire lack of opportunities for healing deep wounds, for decent survival, and for a return to respect, dignity, love, and a sense of belonging and well-being. Hurt people will hurt others in words and action. Adding more violence to their condition through brutal force only escalates the situation to what we are seeing today. Violence begets violence.
This crisis is not a police problem. The tendency of police to gloat about their success by referring to the murder rate each year was seriously flawed. As we have seen over years, the level of crime and violence will never be solved solely by the police. Belize must admit that the nation is experiencing a mental health crisis of violently criminal proportions that is rooted in decades of persistent psychological and socio-economic neglect, unresolved pains, and apathy. The focus on “fighting crime” through militaristic approaches will always prove to be an ineffective band-aid. That approach has not reduced violent crimes and murders. On the contrary, in most cases it has only aggravated deep wounds of those hurting and victimized the innocent.
Consequently, even with heavy investments in a Gang Suppression Unit, and the increase in the size of the police force, the rate of murders and the number of gangs in Belize have sharply increased. Why? Dedicating energies and resources to fighting darkness are always bound to fail. To eliminate darkness, one must invest in light. It is turning on light (not fighting the darkness) that really overcomes darkness.
Part of turning on the light means that sustained investments must be made in youth programs to nurture confidence, healing, self-worth and positive leadership while mitigating those alienating conditions that breed crime. These include programs such as scouting, girl guides, various sports, musical training, technical skills training, dance groups, field-based learning programs, yoga, karate, creative and performing arts, organic garden clubs and various other programs. Human social groupings are a natural way for people to nurture support for one another. It is the absence of building positive groups for youths that enables gangs to form and flourish. Belize desperately needs healers of every kind in our schools, homes, workplaces and communities.
Investments in job creation and employable skills are also critical. This might mean aggressive bi-lateral negotiations with countries to provide the necessary volunteer training personnel with technical skills to train our youths. This also means securing a vastly expanded number of spaces abroad for our youths to learn various technical and vocational skills that are not adequately available in Belize.
Rather than one-off “donations”, sustained investments in youth development programs by government, social partners and diaspora organizations can, if properly planned and managed, result in developing a more confident, disciplined, aware and engaged generation of Belizean youths with positive values for national development. Aggressive, substantial and sustained investment in inclusive development programs are those lights desperately needed to eliminate the dark cloud of enmity, hatred, anger, fear, greed and jealousy that lie beneath the surface of the iceberg of crime and violence.
The status quo of the conditions that breed crime cannot and must not continue. With as much enthusiasm and resources as they muster at elections, area representatives, the government, churches, and civil society institutions, are now called to resolutely and urgently source and commit substantial investments in youth and family programs that will show measureable improvements in the quality of life of youths and most vulnerable citizens. If not us, who? If not now, when?