PM Barrow brokers truce with city gangs …but for how long?

Following the controversial beat-down of George Street residents and reputed gang members by the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) on Friday, August 26, 2011, Prime Minister Dean Barrow met with representatives of the city’s major gangs in an attempt to facilitate a truce between them to prevent serious violence during the September celebrations.

Initially, PM Barrow met with gang representatives on Friday and Sunday, September 4, but today, Wednesday, representatives of Government also met with members of the South Side Gangsters (SSG).

Yesterday, Tuesday, the SSG had stated publicly that they didn’t agree with the outcome of the meetings, and that they were not represented in the meetings on Friday and Sunday, as was stated by Ministry officials.

These peace talks followed threats that were made by members of the George Street Gang (GSG) while they were airing their grievances with the GSU via the media after many of them had been brutalized by members of the GSU. They claimed police brutality even after they had complied with the orders of the officers.

The GOB took that threat seriously, and on Friday evening and Sunday evening, GOB representatives met with a majority of the leaders and key representatives at the ITVET compound on Freetown Road.

To do this, PM Dean Barrow had to cut short his trip to St. Kitts where he had gone to see the new president of the Caribbean Court of Justice formally installed.

Also flown in for the mediation meeting was Dr. Herbert Gayle, a social anthropologist, who has done the most extensive research on crime in Belize to date.

The State was also represented by Doug Singh, Minister of Police and Public Safety; the Commissioner of Police, Crispin Jeffries; Brigadier General Dario Tapia, Commander of BDF; Senior Superintendent Edward Broaster, director of the Conscious Youth Development Project (CYDP); and Anthony “Boots” Martinez, Minister of Works.

It is notable that the security of the ITVET compound was taken over by the police. Every vehicle belonging to the gangs was searched at the gate for weapons, and metal detectors were used on every gang member before they could enter the meeting room.

On Friday there were two meetings: one at around 1:30 p.m., which lasted for about an hour and forty-five minutes, and another at around 4 p.m., which lasted for another hour and forty-five minutes.

Darren Banks, a reputed leader on remand, and another associate, were escorted by prison wardens to the meeting. Police officers also brought the Meighan brothers, major players in one of the gangs, from police detention to participate in the meeting.

The first meeting included GOB and gang members of Back-a-Town, PIV, Kraal Road, Taylor’s Alley, and Southside Gangsters; the other meeting included the George Street gang and its affiliates. We understand from officials at the ITVET that the first group is in direct rivalry with George Street and their affiliates.

On Sunday, as was agreed at the end of Friday’s meetings, the key players of both sides agreed to meet GOB again, this time together, to mediate a ceasefire. That meeting ran for a little over 3 hours.

At the end of Sunday’s meeting, PM Barrow spoke very guardedly to the media present on progress to curb the gang-related violence.

He said on Sunday that there has been a fragile consensus by all groups involved. He said that the truce hammered out was as a result of a combination of two things: the state sticking to the principle of doing what must be done to keep the public safe, and a sense of self-preservation by the members involved.

Mr. Barrow explained that the gang leaders and their rivals have said that too many of their “soldiers” and “lee bwoy dem” have died senselessly in the last few months.

He said that the State is not foolishly hoping that all members will abide by the truce, but he believes that there is a basis for cautious optimism because more of the gangs were represented in these meetings than were represented the last time GOB tried to meet with the gangs.

PM Barrow then spoke on how the truce is expected to work. He explained that a coordinating committee has been set up (he didn’t specify any members or if gang leaders would become members) to monitor the truce and exert a sort of calming influence over the “foot soldiers” of each gang.

He also explained that once the testing period has shown that the truce can hold, GOB and the committee will make jobs available for members to restore infrastructure in the various neighborhoods. He did not specify what sort of infrastructure.

On Friday, when asked if the conduct of the GSU on George Street on August 26, 2011, was addressed, PM Barrow chose not to go into details of that discussion.

However, he did say that residents of George Street who were affected, and who feel that their rights have been violated, are free to seek any legal course of action for compensation, and that in fact, some residents have already chosen to seek the legal course for redress.

Also on Friday, when the question was put to Minister Singh about GSU possibly changing its tactics, Singh responded that the media representative was making assumptions, and the question went unanswered.

A reference was made to the fact that residents could show bruises and wounds suffered. At that point, PM Barrow addressed the media saying that revisiting the evening of August 26, 2011, would produce no positive result.

He reiterated that the George Street Gang has agreed to move past that incident, and no one is barring them from seeking redress for any violation of their rights.

The fact of the matter, however, is that in the view of many citizens, both those who have been directly affected by the violence, and those who have learned of the incidents through the media, the GSU has been using unnecessary violence against innocent citizens, apparently without any fear of censure from their commanding officers, the Minister of Police, or the Prime Minister himself.

But the George Street incident was not an isolated incident, and the consensus of opinion from the general public seems to be that the GSU officers are “out of control,” and apparently, will remain “out of control” for the foreseeable future.

The South Side Gangsters (SSG) sent out a press release yesterday to the media, claiming that GOB has been misinforming the public, and that the authorities ought to have known that it was not proper that no representatives of SSG were present at the meetings.

The press release read, “This notice serves to inform the public that the Prime Minister Barrow, Minister of Police, Douglas Singh, Min. “Boots” Martinez, Mr. Jeffries, George Street Gang, associates of George Street Gang, and all other attendees at the meetings held at the ITVET Building on Friday, September 2, and Sunday, September 4, 2011, know quite well that there were no participants present representing the ‘SSGs’ South Side Gangsters.

“We were not in attendance at any of the sessions for the simple reason that we felt that the true objective was to only resolve the issues between the GSU Gang and the George Street Gang. We felt that it would NOT have been a real open floor for discussion where we would have been able to voice our opinions, suggestions, insights nor issues with the ‘dominant’ George Street Gang and their associates. We believe that it was simply a session where the PM and his people can come to an understanding with the George Street Gang.”

“So therefore, we the South Side Gees stand and make note to the public that our Government and reps of the Government are making their own truce with the George Street Gang. GOB is using the SSG as their scapegoat to mend their relationship with the George Street Gang. Prime Minister needs to stop exploiting the SSGs.”

The release then urged that GOB meet with SSG at the earliest possible time, preferably at the Yabra Community Policing Building on Caesar Ridge Road.

Police Minister Doug Singh told KREM News that 20 members of SSG met with GOB at ITVET today, Wednesday. Some members were even brought from prison to participate.

Singh said that SSG has now provided its support for the truce. Two of its members have been appointed to communicate, on behalf of SSG, to the other gang leaders to continue to negotiate a way forward even after the September celebrations.

At this point, it is still uncertain if members of the Rocky Road and Jump Street gangs have had any representation on any of the three meeting days.