On Wednesday night, March 21, several residents of Taylor’s Alley, off Orange Street and close to the downtown area of Belize City, were allegedly viciously assaulted by armed members of the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU).
It is the second incident to take place in almost two months.
In late August of last year, in the aftermath of a brutal clash between armed law enforcement forces and residents of George Street after a funeral, the Government was prompted to negotiate a peace with the various gangs across the City, which has since seen them employed in various projects and being paid for their efforts.
The truce has been under threat almost from its inception, following such incidents as the death of Joshua Abraham, 9, on Independence Day, September 21, near his home on Victoria Street; the killing of another 9-year-old, Aaron Pope, at his George Street residence after a home invasion, and most recently, an attack on an apartment complex in the heart of George Street territory, on Dean and Plues Streets, which has sparked a threatened lawsuit.
In this latest incident, according to the victims, three squads of police officers, two in the camouflage uniforms of the GSU and the rest a mix of Anti-Drug Unit (ADU) and Dragon Unit officers, entered the alley and, without apparently either introducing themselves or explaining the reason for their presence, began to beat and assault certain residents in the presence of their families and children, leaving one with a broken jaw and sprained ankle. The incident took place in less than an hour, from approximately 8:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., and at its end the officers left as they came.
Speaking with the local television outlets after the incident, the most well-known of the persons assaulted, Arthur Young, appeared to be in one breath threatening possible retaliation for Wednesday night’s events, and in another, shying away from such retaliation.
Young told Channel 7, in reference to the GSU: “I don’t know who are dealing with the GSU, but GSU have to know that we know where they live and we know where their woman lives and we know their children. We know everything, so if they are trying to turn us into a monster, they have to watch out, because if we turn into a monster, then there would be a lot of bloodshed and we don’t want to do that.”
“They supposed to try come in here and talk to us, reason with us or something. You can’t come and beat us up because that will not happen. That will have to stop.”
But elsewhere in the interview, he stated, “We just have to stay strong and at the same time we have to focus, because if we deal with the officers the same way how they deal with us, it will be bloodshed, because we can do the same thing, but we just are restraining ourselves from doing that because that is not what we want.”
And he said to Channel 5, regarding the relationship between residents and police: “I think it is not fair because the police could come and do their job, and we always respect them when they come around, and if they want someone, they can just take them. But if they come and keep beating us like that, then a man can only take so much. And then we don’t want to have no problem like that with the law.”
Later in that interview, he again appeared to straddle the thin line between retaliation and reconciliation.
So which is it? For now, it appears to be reconciliation, as Amandala found out this afternoon when we visited the alley and spoke to residents, including Young.
Asked specifically about his “tough talk,” Young explained, “Belize dah wa small country. Everybody know each other. So we don’t need for it to reach this level of problem for everybody to come and talk to each other.”
The gangs, says Young, who is a Conscious Youth Development Programme (CYDP) supervisor, have been keeping to their end of the bargain, staying out of trouble and doing the work for which they have been paid.
In fact, he told us, Taylor and Trench Alley have no problem with nearby rival George Street or the other gangs signed to the truce.
What they do have a problem with, he stated, is that the GSU have been “acting senseless…no different from us who they demonize…they need to do their job professionally. If they continue [like this], I’m not saying we are going to do anything to them, but other people might be different from me, see it differently, and certain people don’t exercise their knowledge, so they might deal with it a different way.”
Young added that the police brass “have to acknowledge themselves that the situation that the ‘street guys’are in, by [doing] things like this they are putting themselves in the same category.”
“Retaliation is not in our mind…but they have to know you can’t fight fire with fire, something else, but not that,” Young concluded.
Instead, they have made their formal statements to the police and today to the Ombudsman’s Office, and plan to cooperate with a three-person investigating team appointed by new Minister of National Security, John Saldivar.
Minister of State in that Ministry, Mark King, paid a visit to the area on Friday morning and listened to the residents’ complaints; area representative (Mesopotamia), Michael Finnegan, has been on record as condemning the GSU’s tactics.
The Department itself has made no comment, and we were not able to reach any senior officials at press time.
Another target on Wednesday night who spoke to us today on condition of anonymity told us that the regular police patrols passing through the area since March 21 have continued to attempt to “run off” the residents from the area, and defended the fragile truce, saying that the money they receive helps them tend to their families and is not used for illegal activity.
Report: EXCESSIVE FORCE BY GANG SUPPRESSION UNIT
Suppression Unit made by residents of Taylor’s Alley have been submitted, and it does not paint a pretty picture of the GSU. According to a statement from the Ministry of National Security, the investigators appointed by the Minister earlier this month, found that on March twenty first when the GSU descended on Taylor’s Alley, the behavior of the Police Officers was excessive and unjustifiable. The official statement says that while the team is mindful of the fact that there may be occasion for the use of force, they were of the opinion that there is no indication that this was such an occasion.
The evidence is that the Police took the complainants by surprise and they received immediate compliance from the complainants. In view of the findings of the Investigating Team, the Ministry has decided to remove all ground commanders and individuals identified as those that were excessive in their behavior; to provide overall training on law and procedure to all members of specialized units and to carry out a thorough review of the criteria for membership of specialized units will be done.
The official statement says that while action will be taken against the identified perpetrators, the Investigating Team believes that traditional disciplinary action would not yield much success at this time. Furthermore, the Investigating Team has established that some of the stories of the complainants and the witnesses were to some degree embellished.
The Ministry of National Security, based upon the findings of the investigative team, today apologized via the press release on behalf of the Commissioner and members of the Belize Police Department, to the residents of Taylor’s Alley for the excessive behavior of its officers. Members of the investigative team were former Commissioner of Police Hughington Williams, Donelle Hawke and Ian Gray.