Two nights ago, we went back in our archives to discuss the genesis of the GSU and its founding principles. Tonight to follow up, we've got a more current story, one that looks back on the tumultuous times that we've seen since the rise of the GSU. Now, the tumult has surely not been all the GSU's fault, but the unit has played a pivotal, even catalytic role in some key events - extending far beyond just policing, into politics and the very foundation of law and order. Tonight's story will try and determine if it has all been worth it - and if their style of policing makes things better or worse. Jules Vasquez has put the story together with purely archival material for a broad look at the GSU's deep imprint - particularly on Belize City:..
Jules Vasquez reporting
Their thorough, relentless, and often brutal tactics have earned the GSU a fearsome reputation on the streets - where in some quarters they are viewed as a death squad:
Gerald Shiney Tillett, Leader - GSG
"Government stupid unit - that is their death squad."
"Police push me to the ground and the Spanish policeman "Nah" stomped me in my head back and blood started to run down my face. They are trying to create monsters. They don't know me as any criminal."
"But I know they were beating people. They had rubber bullets, they had pepper spray - they were pepper spraying people - man, woman, it didn't matter who it was. you could even say anything."
"All of them had on masks; they don't need any masks. Why are they putting on masks for? It's just because they want to chance the boys them and want nobody to see their faces. If you continue to harass and harass a man, and that man is doing nothing, you know what will happen? It will just irritate those young boys' minds."
"It was more than one of them and they crowded me and shocked me all over."
Brenton Garoy - Assaulted by Police
"They tasered us and wet with cold water that they bought at the shop."
"What I thought was happening was that they were a group of killers. It didn't look like a robbery happening that morning. If you hear gunshots around your house, through your doors, windows, it looked as though they were trying to kill my entire family and myself."
Leonard "Ghost" Meyers, Deceased
"The GSU came with masks on. They kicked open my door and started to pepper spray me. I went on the ground because I could not see. They started to beat me all over."
"They are destroying it and taking away all our freedom. For what? nothing."
Indeed, the complaints against the GSU have been substantial - but while many - particularly in the city gang affiliated areas loathe the GSU - there are many in high places who feel their paramilitary tactics are just what the unruly streets need - that is why despite intense, sustained public pressure, the GSU has not been disbanded or stood down - and they remain un apologetic:
Mark Vidal, Commander - GSU
"And these personas have no regard for their own lives, much less yours or mine. So there has to be a level of training that meets that kind of situation."
The GSU is so big and bad that this single unit forced one of the most pivotal political and national events when they hit George street with force after the Charles Woodeye funeral:
Voice of GSU officer
"What happened is that up to yesterday, the boss says that he will be embarking on, as he puts it, a 'War against George Street'
"Anything that walks or crawls or runs on George Street that is what we will deal with. We will hit George Street. We don't have a specific code name for the operation, but we will class it as an operation to target George Street."
"The target today is the funeral of Charles Woodye at 2pm. The boss says that he wants us to work the funeral -not to escort the funeral, but to drag out people from out the procession if we believe that they have anything illegal. Drag out the vehicles and search them, he says; he will take the heat. He says he doesn't mind taking the heat, but we just have to bring it on them."
They did "bring it" all hell broke loose on George Street culminate in a mass beatdown - which caused such an uproar in and threats to public safety from the Gaza that it forced the Prime Minister to cut short a state visit and return to Belize to hammer out a gang truce - but the truce meeting was really forced by the actions of the GSU!:
"Did the matter of the GSU - the incident that occur Friday night which we believe started this whole news cast - was that being address here today?"
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"The incident with the GSU was spark by the fact that there was a spate of shootings around that time. But to answer your question directly yes of course we discuss the fallout from that incident."
But nothing changed and how could it? Now with all the bad blood between the GSU and the gangs
Leonard Ghost Meyers
"They will kick down the wrong door and will run up into something hard."
"The GSU has to know that they are humans, they have to know that we know where they live and we know where their woman lives and we know their children. We know everything."
And so with escalation at both ends - it begs the question, whether the paramilitary approach has helped to dampen or fuel the escalating crime situation:
"Isn't there a legitimate concern that if we see, again, 130 plus murders, they'll say, 'You know that Gang Suppression Unit was really a waste of time. It was misconceived," and send Mr. Vidal back to intelligence, reassign those officers to ADU or somewhere that it's just a feeling -- a hope that this will work. And if it does not work, at the end of the year, will it mean that the Gang Suppression Unit, for all its great sound and fury has failed?"
"Well I don't think so. The Gang Suppression Unit is just one component in all the other components put together."
But it is the most well-funded, most visible component, which begs the question: is government putting the hammer before the ham?
"Now specifically, in the Gayle Report, it advocates against the use of paramilitary-type operations, saying that it only becomes a contest of force. Because you become like a rival gang for the -- actually GSU is not far from the GSG."
"Right, only in acronym. Well I think that the meet-and-greet aspect has been on for as long as the gangs have been formed and functional. That has not worked; rather we have seen over the years an increase in crime, particularly murder. There is not that community policing component has not given the desired results."
So has the GSU given those results? They argue that they have confiscated volumes of drugs and weapons and made major arrests.
As noted in the story, all those interviews were from our archives dating back to late 2010 when the GSU was first formed.
Commander Marco Vidal did provide impressive up to date statistics on all their seizures in the GSU's short history.