For too many years, Belizeans have tuned into our news stations and read the news in our newspapers and on social media to learn of yet another report of what appears to be an endless cycle of violence perpetrated by young black men against their own black brothers. In Belize, where an average of around 120 homicides in Belize have occurred a year during the period 2006-2019, hundreds of black men, and counting, have been violently killed over the past decades of successive government administrations, and counting.
Somehow, many in the nation have become starkly apathetic to this depressing reality, as the life of one black male after another becomes violently extinguished. The cost of this loss to families, future families, and the nation remains high.
The Southside of Belize City has been reported to be one of the most violent areas in the world per square mile. Like our sister country Jamaica, numerous States of Emergencies have been called in attempts to quell the violence. Many would consider tactics under the SOE to be Band-Aid approaches, as, ultimately, these measures will not prevent the perpetual cycle of violent crimes to which there seems to be no end in sight.
It is not a coincidence that young black men in Belize, as in many countries across the hemisphere, including the United States, Jamaica and Trinidad, turn to a lifestyle of violence. Historically, young black men have been marginalized, shunned, ignored, and denied opportunities for advancement, as compared to young men born to favored elites who gain a head-start in life through the socioeconomic and political connections of their families.
Furthermore, many of Belize’s children and youths who come from sometimes broken single-parent homes tend to harbor a lot of internal conflicts and trauma from past parental conflicts, many of which remain deep in their minds.
If not resolved and healed, these traumatic mental states can lead them to grow up into broken adults. It is not surprising, then, that strategies to address domestic violence have hardly been successful. As long as the total well-being of children is ignored within their families, as long as these are not addressed at an early stage, interventions later on will remain mostly ineffective band- aid solutions.
Youths will continue to be susceptible to and prone to join the gang lifestyle that surrounds them. The Issues unresolved from childhood can also spiral into harm of others through ways such as domestic abuse and other forms of dysfunction, such as substance abuse.
Dr. Herbert Gayle’s comprehensive 2010 study on “Male Social Participation and Urban Violence in Belize” shares deep insights into the root causes of the gang lifestyle that these young men lead. This includes “poor families, social isolation, social neglect, lack of educational opportunities, stigma and prejudice against communities, and a nightmare of social boundaries, including political tribalism and gang turfs,” amongst many others.
Given the continuation of this state of affairs, successive government administrations and civil society have continuously failed our young black Belizean males for decades. From one administration to another, there is stark failure to provide adequate and sustained intervention to guide and uplift vulnerable boys out of their endangered childhood life conditions.
Clearly, the same old strategies of depending on the police to solve crimes have not effectively resulted in a nonviolent and caring society. As we have seen over recent decades, the police alone cannot prevent Belize’s vulnerable young men from living a life of crime, domestic violence, and substance abuse.
This is a task that goes far beyond policing. It starts with tackling the problem at the root level, which includes strong and sustained intervention to properly nurture and guide our young boys who are vulnerable to these troubled lifestyles. It is easier to train boys than to retrain men.
Interventions from the earliest stages, including sustained investments to heal families and children, are needed to help positively shape the lives of our future generation of men. Belizeans cannot continue to live in the false comfort of apathy as the epidemic of poverty, crime and violence continues to shatter black lives.
Neither should we continue with the same old approaches where crime prevention and solutions are left to the police. Just as there were organized multi-sectoral plans to combat COVID-19, our country needs more sustained efforts to nurture communities of self-confident, civic-minded young men and women with stronger morals, values and life skills.
Now is the time to build stronger partnerships between the government, churches and civil society to create a sustained, rigorous development program to build a safer, non-violent society.
Such a program could include organized sports programs – a program for disciplined training of sports teams from each constituency; and the formation of more youth development programs through which youths can be trained in musical skills, home gardening, various entrepreneurial and technological skills, and healing practices such as meditation.
Churches, the media and other institutions can also embark on a program of parental training that provides practical tips for parents to nurture their children, especially since most of the values and behavior that boys and girls learn also start at home.
Just as it is important for our children to learn academics, schools should place equal priority on teaching practical life skills, involving adults who are role models in the communities. Such skills would include practical techniques to nurture good mental health, self-care, financial management, positive human relations, and practical employable skills, to name a few.
Our education system must prioritize the teaching of strong positive values and skills to complement academia.
The attitudes and values learned at schools are also seeds that are planted for future adults. The wellbeing of our young people is inextricably bound to the wellbeing of the entire society, as human capital is arguably a country’s most important resource. With no alternative choices, our boys will continue to be susceptible and fall prey to the lifestyle of gang and violence that exists in our streets and neighborhoods.
Our boys and girls, young men and women, need to heal from the centuries-old scars and deep intergenerational trauma and wounds of socio-economic discrimination. What the police are seeing are only behavioral manifestations, the tip of the iceberg, of years of anger, hopelessness, frustration, deep trauma and neglect.
Healing these cannot start with the police, especially police violence that re-traumatizes them. The State, the Church, Non-Government Organizations, the media, and private sector organizations must all play their own role in urgently finding ways to address issues affecting our young black males at the root level.
As long as the nation continues to be apathetic and ignore the plight of the black male children and young black men, we all will continue to suffer the karmic effects long into the future.
Belize’s young men are desperate for a new, uplifting life. Our nation must strongly commit to doing better.