The gangs are very powerful organizations. Their power come from their members’ commitment to support and protect each other; from the fact that they are armed; and that they kill without compunction and, apparently, without fear of the consequences of their crimes.
Over a year ago, I asked someone, who moved freely in the areas ruled by gangs, how large were the gangs. He said there were about twelve gangs in Belize City and each had about fifteen to twenty members.
That was then. I understand that now, there are about fifteen gangs and, the gangs are large and growing in size because, they are actively recruiting new members of younger and younger age. What is more, if you live in an area where a gang is established, you have no choice but to join the gang.
We tend to think of gangs as composed only of males. Actually, gangs include their female companions, sisters and, in some cases, single mothers. So, each male gang member may have at least three female associates who are involved in crime. All together, there might be as many as twelve hundred persons engaged in gang criminal activity.
Gang members and their female companions are having children. What will their future be like? Is it likely that the male children of such unions will be other than a gang member? They, like their parents, will be the children of hopelessness, deprivation and neglect. If nothing is done about gangs, the time may come when gang membership will become a significant segment of our population.
Ninety percent of violent crimes are committed by gang members. The same percent of murders are committed by gang members. So, if the gangs were dismantled, violent crime would decrease. Gangs came into existence for the sole purpose of providing aid and protection to their members in the pursuit of criminal activity as a way of life. So, it is right to declare that gangs are criminal organizations. Therefore, it is right to declare that to be a member of a gang is an offence. Actually, it would be an offence if there was a law which so declared. The effect of such a declaration would be to force gang members to operate independently, and only the fittest could survive as a lone wolf.
I put forward this proposal, with supporting arguments in my column titled Of Sheep and Wolves, published in Amandala’s edition of 10th June, 2012. A similar proposal was made in the editorial in the Reporter’s edition of December 30th, 2012. The natural consequence of converting his proposal into law would, in the editor’s opinion, be the dismantling of the gangs. It would, if the penalty for breaking the law was a short prison term. The gang members would be forced to make a choice of remaining in the gang and be incarcerated en masse or leaving them and operating alone.
Let’s look at this proposal in depth. First question: can a democratic government, having regard to the rights and freedoms of citizens enshrined in the constitution, institute the measures that are required? The answer is yes, provided the measures are in the National Interest and for the Common Good. Second question: would these measures achieve the desired objective? Answer, it is for the government’s brain trust to determine this. Third question: would civil society approve? That has to be determined by a public opinion survey. Fourth question: what is the downside? Answer, to be determined by government’s brain trust. Last question: are there better ways to achieve the desired objective? Answer, if there are, why haven’t they been introduced before this?
We may not agree on what is the best way to prevent the increase of violent crime, especially murder or, to reverse the present trend, but I think we are agreed that none of the measures already undertaken are doing, or have done the job.
We are agreed, also, that there have to be measures that will make an immediate impact on the incidence of violent crimes, as well as to deal, effectively, with the root causes of crime in the long term.
In this writer’s opinion, already expressed in previous essays, what is mainly responsible for our present situation is the failure of those responsible for the care, protection, training and preparation of our children for their role as adults. The criminals of today are yesterday’s children of deprivation and neglect. We have to concentrate on our children and, the best way to do this is establish it as public policy to promote, encourage and support the institution of marriage. There is no better place to raise children than in a home with both parents. That was one of the principal recommendations of the Crime Commission Report of 1992.
Children are our greatest national resource and our best investment. When they are born into families, the state is relieved of most of its responsibility for their care and development. Therefore, in order to avoid the social problems which deprivation and neglect of the young give rise to, the state has to invest more of our resources in the children born out of wedlock.
It is a fact that the societal forces have a lot to do with the formation of antisocialist attitudes and a feeling of hopelessness, which contribute to the growth of criminal elements. Still, in the end, it comes down to the making of bad choices by the individual criminals, for which he alone is responsible. We can sympathize with individual criminals. It is the tragedy of a human being reverting to being a denizen of the jungle.
There is an old song, I think it was written by Johnny Mercer, a great American singer/songwriter. Its title is, “Accentuate the Positive and Eliminate the Negative,” which is apropos in deciding on public policy to change how people live in the crime-infested areas of Belize City. Assuming we can eliminate the negative, how can we change the lives of the unfortunate people, who suffer from hopelessness? It is the genius of us Belizeans that we can solve social problems, if our best minds are engaged in the effort. Would you say that our best minds are presently engaged?