Residents of George Street are boiling mad at the brutal, cruel, vicious, senseless and vindictive operation carried out on Friday evening by members of Government’s “goon squad,” the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), ostensibly against members of what they consider the “George Street Gang.”
We say “ostensibly,” because absolutely no effort was apparently made to distinguish between citizens known, or believed to be members of that gang, and innocent, ordinary citizens who just happened to be in the locality, either residing there, or passing through on business or for pleasure, or just en route to another section of the city.
In fact, citizens who pleaded for understanding on the grounds that they had nothing to do with the reason for the raid were rewarded with extreme violence from officers who had apparently “gone crazy.”
The GSU was formed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s administration, and it became fully operational in mid-October 2010 reportedly to combat crime.
In that short time, the unit has earned a reputation for brutality and a callous disregard for the basic human rights of Belizean citizens. Many citizens blame the actions of the GSU on Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, and Minister of Police, Doug Singh, who, despite taking over from Carlos Perdomo, has been singularly ineffective in curbing the violent propensities of the unit, which appears to operate with impunity, seemingly having the blessing and protection of both men.
Eyewitnesses told Amandala that the funeral service for the late Charles Woodeye, who was murdered inside the Dolphin Street Fire Station on August 14, 2011, had just finished, sometime after 4:00 p.m., and his friends were returning home to the George Street area.
The funeral-goers told us that Woodeye had been like a brother to the residents on George Street. He also reportedly had associates in the George Street Gang.
Dana Todd, a George Street resident, told us that the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) trailed them all the way from the funeral site, until they arrived on George Street at around 5 p.m. The police have made it a (habit/procedure) of sorts to follow the residents of George Street all the way home after a funeral of one of their associates.
The exact order of events is not known to us at this time, but it all can be traced back to the point when the GSU officers met the returning residents, and some “hard talking” began.
The situation escalated to the point where, victims told our newspaper, the GSU “began indiscriminately using ‘pepper spray’,” spraying it directly into the faces of helpless citizens.
Immediately after this, someone fired shots at the Mesopotamia Police Station, in the George Street vicinity.
Minutes after the shooting near the police station, Maurice Neal and Jessica Cadle were shot on the corner of Berkeley Street and West Canal. Police immediately began an entire sweep of the area and rounded up every male person that was on George Street or in the surrounding areas.
This was when “all hell broke loose,” and officers resorted to the use of tear gas to control the crowd, which caused a major uproar.
That rounding up was far from routine. Gerald “Shiney” Tillet, and Carlos Abraham, both of whom police have charged with minor offenses, explained to us that immediately after the shots were heard, and Neal and Cadle were shot, three police mobile units, filled with at least nine GSU officers each, all wearing masks, rushed onto George Street, and entered the yard of Dana Todd.
They began ordering everyone on the ground, and they brutalized everyone into compliance. About 20 or more people were gathered in her yard.
The police did an entire sweep of the area, but were unable to find the shooter after barging into the homes of several of the residents, in their ham-fisted style.
One resident told us that the police put him on the ground and stomped on the back of his head. His forehead hit the ground and blood began gushing.
Another told us that his vehicle was damaged, police kicked over the liquor and food that they were preparing for the repast of Charles Woodeye, and the police wielded a wooden bat at his head and his arm. Both these men had to receive stitches.
Another man told us that after they hit him several times with a baton, and he was bleeding, he asked for medical attention, and another officer kicked him in the face and told him to shut up.
Police reportedly broke the jawbone of one of the men in Todd’s yard, and Alpheus Smith, a 53-year-old resident of George Street, who was manning the barbeque grill that the GSU officers kicked over, was kicked in the ribs, causing some bruises.
The women of George Street were not exempted from the GSU’s brutality. Dana Todd showed us a very large bruise she suffered from being kicked and beaten. Another young woman showed us a scabbing wound on her ear, where a police officer hit her.
We were shown a rubber bullet, which, we were told, was shot by the GSU. One of the bullets reportedly hit one of the young female residents near her left armpit.
Dorla Vaughn, a well-known resident, a Justice of the Peace, and leader of the Black Pearl Carnival Band, told us that her group was just returning from a motorcade around the city. She said that she heard the firing of the shots, and got everyone off the street into a building on George Street. She said that there were only women and children in the area, but the members of the carnival band were attacked with tear gas for no reason, other than that officer suspected that there were men in the building also.
These people who spoke to us were affiliated with, or lived on George Street. Zane Galvez, nephew of Yolanda Schakron, and brother of the slain Chris Galvez, was delivering liquor to the friends and associates of Charles Woodeye, after the funeral, and he got caught up in the sweep, and was badly injured.
He tried to explain to the arresting GSU officer that he was only in the area delivering liquor, but the man ignored him and brought a wooden baseball bat down in the direction of his head. Galvez said that he blocked the hit with his right arm, and it was broken by the blow.
He said that the doctor explained that the blow could have done major damage to his head if it had hit it.
Also, Wilmer Conorquie, a Channel 7 employee who was watching the procession of the Black Pearl Carnival Band, was swept up in the GSU’s violence, as well.
Conorquie told us that the police grabbed him and ordered him onto the ground. He then attempted to explain that he was an innocent bystander, but the police ignored him. He then tried to inform them that his supervisor, Jules Vasquez of Channel 7, could vouch for him, but an officer ordered him to shut up and slammed his firearm down on the front of his head, which caused an open wound.
After all these men were rounded up, and beaten, they were taken into police custody and held for more than 60 hours — the entire weekend. The victims themselves told us that approximately 40 people were arrested and brutalized.
Of that amount, only two were charged with minor offenses based on the allegations of the GSU.
Gerald Tillett was charged with issuing a threat of death, damage to property, and throwing missiles (it wasn’t explained what kind). Carlos Abraham was charged with using obscene language.
They were arraigned in Magistrate’s Court today, and both pleaded not guilty. Tillett was released on bail of $3,000 and he will return to court on October 20, 2011. Abraham was released on bail of $2,000 and he is to return to court on October 11, 2011.
What’s more, none of the other men were charged with anything, and none have been detained in connection with the murder of Maurice Neal and the shooting of Jessica Cadle.
Furthermore, none of them have been charged in connection with the shooting around the Mesopotamia Police Station.
The Police Press Office has been “unavailable” all of today, Monday. Dough Singh, Minister of Police, told the media that while he has been briefed on the details of the incident, he doesn’t wish to comment at this time. He referred us to Rafael Martinez, Public Relations Officer for the Police Ministry, who said that he was not in a position to comment because he has not been given all the facts as yet.
Amid all that, the GSU continued to operate in the area, but no explanation was given as to why they returned. The residents of the area told us that they are traumatized; they believe that because they’ve come forward to the media, they will be further harassed, but they are prepared for it, they say.Amandala