Two areas of Southside Belize City have been declared to be in a state of public emergency. The areas are George Street and Mayflower. The Ministry of National Security will be hosting a press conference this morning.
The Statutory Instrument for the State of Emergency:
Re: State of Public Emergency in Southside Belize City
#532173 09/06/1806:28 AM09/06/1806:28 AM
Tonight, for the first time in decades, certain areas of Southside Belize City are under a state of emergency.
Two large areas have been designated as "public emergency zones." These are the turf of the George Street and Banak Street gangs. Their recent round of warfare resulted in the weekend's spate of killings in the city. And now, the state has responded decisively - with an unprecedented move - basically to declare the warzones special areas where police have special powers to arrest and detain without charges.
It's a huge and historic event - and today the acting Commissioner Chester Williams led a press conference to explain why it has been necessitated:
Jules Vasquez reporting:
This morning police and BDF swarmed the areas in and around George Street. We saw masked BDF soldiers guarding the corners, machine guns at the ready. And while we've seen that before, the sight of these jungle ready soldiers in masks is something new, and that menacing appearance told everyone on the streets that today was not business as usual. The men you see in the back of the truck are two of about 100 detained between 3:00 am and 10:00 am as a result of a period of intense house to house searches and arrests in this neighborhood. Appearing today in operational camouflage, the acting commissioner made it clear that the time for dialogue with gangs is done!
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "We cannot continue to dialogue with people who don't want to listen."
And those who don't want to listen will now feel, apparently.
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "It is now necessary for us to move to another level where we can let those persons who are adamant about creating havoc in our society understand that the police is here to do a job and that job will be done at any cost to ensure the safety and security of our law abiding citizens."
And the cost in this case may be steep. These two areas on the Southside have been put under a state of emergency. In Statutory Instrument #49 signed yesterday, a proclamation declaring a state of public emergency in the Southside of Belize has designated these areas as "Public Emergency Zones." And while they may be fairly large, Acting Compol Williams says it's really all about two gangs.
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "Banak area and the George Street area are the two areas of concern at this time. And so, those are the two areas that are captured in the proclamation of a state of emergency on South Side. While yes, the proclamation does give the police and other law enforcement agencies additional powers to be able to go in and arrest the situation, we do not intend to abuse those powers bestowed upon us by the proclamation. We do not want the public to believe that, oh because we have a state of emergency, the ordinary lives of people will be disrupted by the state of emergencies in those areas; it will not. The stores in those areas will be left to remain open as normal."
But, for the one hundred men detained, an estimated 75 of them will not know life as normal for a while.
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "What we intend to do is that in the first instance we intend to incarcerate these individuals for one month. If at the expiration of that one month period they have shown no signs of improvement or that they want to behave themselves then we intend to take it further. Now, some might say that we are really being heavy handed but truth of the matter is, and I'm sure you all will agree, that we have also talked enough with them and we need to be able to make them understand that the time for talking is done."
Reporter "We are hoping that it is just not a situation where a drag net will be placed, man and man will end up being locked up or detained, some may be charged and then when they actually get out you will find that they are more aggressive towards the system and by extension the citizenry."
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "Well, that is a matter for them, you know. Like I am saying, this should be taken as a lesson for them. At the end of the day, you can't fight the state."
And today, the full weight of the state, the legislature, the executive and the police came down on the gang subculture, engendering the implicit threat that they are willing to extend it.
Hon. John Saldivar- Minister of National Security "If we should wish to have an extension of this 30 day period, we will have to take the matter to do the House of Representatives. And I, as minister, do intend to do so if the circumstances do so warrant."
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "Right now this operation is focused in Belize City. And, I will sound the warning, if the other groups decided that they want to create problems, then they will find themselves in the same situation as George Street and the Banak area."
It's a lot of security, personnel and resources, and much of it in the name of a safe September.
COL. Geoge Lovell- (RET'D.) CEO, Ministry of National Security
"We believe that with us going into our festive season - 10th and 21st - and the fact that the type of the incidents that we have seen over the last week or so, it is absolutely necessary for us to arrest the situation and to do so before it gets out of control and we have to go back to that state where we were in March of this year.
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "The activities of these two groups have many Belizeans who are law abiding who want to be out enjoying our history; being in fear of even wanting to come out of their home- that is unacceptable."
And in a sharp change of tone, a man who has long championed the role of community policing and what might be called the Mano suave approach says they must definitively disrupt the gang M.O. - using the Mano duro.
DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner "These gang members are extorting business people out there and it is really and truly getting out of control. One of them told me plain and straight, 'I live out of extortion.' Really? That can't happen."
Shakedi’s Slaying Started It All
So, acting Commissioner Williams has laid down the law, "not anymore" he says.
And the index event that set this whole chain of events into motion is a murder on Friday evening in Belize City. Until then, gang tensions in the city had been simmering, but after Friday afternoon, those tensions erupted into all out warfare.
Williams discussed how Shakedi Baizar's murder marked that pivotal tipping point:..
Jules Vasquez reporting
On Friday afternoon, Shakedi Baizar was killed on Magazine Road. He had just gone to the Matron Roberts Clinic - which is in the territory of the Banak Street gang. And that's why this the 23 year old with a George Street connection was targeted for death as he walked and read his prescription:
Jenny Baizar, Shakedi's Mother "My son doesn't really come to Belize City. To any time he has a result to pick up at the health center, it was me who would go and pick up the result."
Reporter "What was told to you that as he was coming out reading his results when he spun around, there is even a bullet mark in the prescription paper."
Jenny Baizar, Shakedi's Mother "Yes, that's true. The bullet hole was through the paper that he had in his hand."
There were four gang related murders in the city after his death:
DCP Chester Williams, AG. Commissioner "Following that murder there were two other murders that night - we brought in the guys who were involved from George Street and Banak. We sat in with them. We had intervention with them and they were released Saturday in the evening and they promised that they would be holding the peace. Lo and behold as they were released from custody - two other persons were killed immediately thereafter. To me that shows outright disrespect to the police and the public."
Reporter "How can you attribute the murders of Saturday night to the persons you met with? How can you blame it on them?"
DCP Chester Williams, AG. Commissioner "Every gunshot that fires in Belize City, I know who's done it, yes."
And now, this police operation is a completely different thing - a state of emergency - the likes of which have not been seen for decades - and it's caused greater agony for this grieving mother:
Jenny Baizar, Shakedi's Mother "So we were planning to lay my son to rest Friday, but BAM, this thing come up. They went, the police held my 2 sons and they are detained. I get to understand now that they are going to jail. For what, I don't know. My 2 sons got affected by this, because they [police] woke them from their beds. Then they knock one of my sons in his back. What did they knock him for? If you are doing an operation and you are going to pick up someone, then take the person and arrest him. These things are disgusting. This upsets me, knowing that I have a death in my family. I have my child that I need to bury and they are not giving me a break."
DCP Chester Williams, AG. Commissioner "To the parents who will be shouting on the media, because I know on the media we will be getting complaints. I listen to the talk shows this morning, already heard some complaints, but when the gang members, the children were out on the street killing, robbing burglarizing and tormenting people, they were not complaining. So now that we have decided to move this way, to deal with them, please don't complain."
"What we are doing maybe what will save the lives of their children, because if they continue down this path, eventually it will take them to one place and you all know where that is."
Williams has reportedly agreed to let Shakedi's two brothers - who are presently being held as gang members - attend his funeral on Friday with a police escort.
Detained Can Know Their Charge in 7 Days
And, being proactive in this case means rounding up persons who police believe to be in gangs. While proving gang membership in court will be another matter, the cops say they know who they want to take off the street - we asked what will happen to them next since the regular legal process has been suspended for those picked up under the state of emergency:
DCP Chester Williams, AG. Commissioner "We know who our targets are and those are the persons we are going after. I know for a fact that during our operations this morning we may have picked up some people who would not be gang members and so what we will be doing will be going through our list and will be sifting those persons out and we will be releasing them. But those persons who are a part of what we intend to do, they will be kept in custody."
"The constitution section 18, subsection 10 makes provision where they are entitled to certain due process. In the sense that they can be allowed access to an attorney and an attorney can make application on their behalf before a court in terms of asking the court to look at their detention and it will be a matter for us to be able to justify why we have them detained to the court and that we intend to do."
Reporter "Sir, but there will be no standard 48 hours and 72 hours?"
DCP Chester Williams, AG. Commissioner "No. The law simply states that in the first 7 days we must inform them of why they are detained. So in the normal course of the constitution, you have 24 hours. In this case the declaration law says 7 days in the first instance inform them as to why they are detained."
As we said, over a hundred persons from both areas have since been detained and are in holding cells across the city. About seventy-five, including adults and minors, are expected to be moved to the Central Prison; the others will be released. The group will be in lockdown without being charged for any crime meaning they will be imprisoned without trial for thirty days. They were detained on the basis that they known gang affiliates. Acting ComPol Chester Williams says that within the first seven days of their detention, the department will inform the detainees why they have been incarcerated.
Chester Williams, Acting ComPol
“While they are incarcerated, CIB has been tasked, as well as the Gang Task Force has also been tasked to ensure that we look at the cases that we have against these individuals and to see if we will be able to build cases on them so that eventually some of them will be able to be charged for either murder or attempted murder or those activities that they have been involved in, including robberies. I can tell you I have received a number of complaints of extortion where these gang members are extorting business people out there and it is really and truly getting out of control. One of them tell me plain during an intervention that I live off of extortion. Really? That can’t happen. I have spoken to the officers at CIB and I have tasked Mister Jones, who is our legal advisor, to work along with the investigators to be able to see how we can put together the necessary evidence to law charges if necessary against those persons against whom we may have evidence.”
Williams says that the Constitution, section eighteen subsection ten, makes provision where the detainees are allowed access to an attorney, who can apply on their behalf before a court to justify their detention.
Amendment to Gang Legislation Makes it Difficult for suspects to get bail
In recent times, there has been an increase in persons accused of murder, who go before the court, secure bail and get their release. Minister of National Security John Saldivar says that an amendment to the gang legislation was tabled at last Friday’s house meeting to make it difficult for bad elements to get bail. He says the laws are also being revised.
John Saldivar, Minister of National Security
“With the amendment that was tabled in the house on Friday that will add restrictions to the ability of magistrates and the court to give bail, we believe that we will then be in position to further incarcerate these gang leaders who insist in creating havoc in our society using the gang legislation.”
“This year alone, there have been so many accused murders who have walked off—not government’s fault, but because of the backlog and because of all that—looking at perhaps the function of the D.P.P.’s Office. We have all seen cases where the case goes to court after so many years and then witness noh show up, the prosecutors are so overworked, overwhelmed that they don’t even remember which case they di do. Things like that in terms of the allocation of resources to the judiciary. We know the conviction rate because a lot of people out there feel like these criminals are acting the way they are and they have gotten brazen because there is a reasonable chance that a good lawyer will be able to get them off or maybe they sit behind bars for a little while, but they will walk eventually…”
“Only yesterday in cabinet we discussed a series of amendments that are being proposed by the Attorney General’s Office in an attempt to clean up some of the laws that we have on the books. Those will be presented at the next meeting of the National Assembly and he has assured us that his team at the Attorney General’s Office is working on a slew of reforms in terms of exactly what you have said. So I know that the Attorney General’s Office is working on those improvements to our laws.”
“This is not the Answer’- PUP Leader
Three hours after the announcement of a state of public emergency for south side Belize City, the Opposition, People’s United Party reacted. Leader John Briceño hosted a press conference this afternoon, expressing dissatisfaction and concern with the measures by the Ministry of National Security. Briceño says that the government should undertake a comprehensive and holistic approach to also address the socio-economic difficulties being faced by south side residents.
John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition
“This is not the answer. The PUP would not have gone down this road because we would have been addressing this issue way back. Like I said, you are reaping what you have sewn. The government has abandoned and neglected Southside Belize City and today we are seeing the price of that abandonment, of using the Southside just for politics and not making the necessary change to transform the lives of the people of Southside Belize City. Yes we need to police the police on the ground. Yes we need to make sure we keep law and order in the area but that at the same time it is more than that. We have a lot of unemployed people in the Southside. We have a lot of young people who are not going to school because their family cannot afford it. We have a lot of anger where people believe that their children or their family members have been innocently killed and they have nowhere that they can go to. We should be having counseling centers as what the mayor can talk some more about it. It is not a matter of declaring a state of emergency and going in there and infringe on people’s constitutional rights and grab everyone on the streets and locking them up because one month later when you release them, what will happen? Locking up gang members for a month will not do anything to address the poverty and inequality on the Southside of Belize City. It will address the number of young people who are on the streets instead of being in school. We need to look at this problem from a holistic point of view.”
Back when the GOB negotiated a "truce" with the gangs we should have known that it wouldn't work out well! You don't negotiate and agree to a payment plan with these extortionists. Well we did, and it has back-fired. I fully blame this administration for introducing on a wide scale basis, gang members from Belize City to our island. Whether they are brought as some kind of intimidators during voting or the thought was that if they were removed from their home territory and disbursed that they might rehabilitate, that didn't work either - it simply brought gang mentality to the island.
No, I don't know what the solution is. But in the short term let us hope that this state of emergency in those two territories will at least bring some relief from the never-ending violence and mayhem which is being felt not only in the city but around the country. Criminals have been acting without fear of reprisals for far too long.
The state of emergency will definitely harm and impact the population of Belize as we will see tourists and retirees thinking twice before booking their visits - and even though some folks may feel that their income is not impacted by tourism dollars, I think it will be found that the money always has a trickle down effect. And without that income being injected into our communities hard times will be getting harder.
Government money needs to be spent on giving the youth hope that there are great job opportunities and income that they can partake in. The GOB needs to set up schools and other programs to provide our youth with the skills to qualify for decent paying jobs and provide tax incentives to companies that are willing to hire these new inexperienced workers.
Everyone wants to have a comfortable life free of fear - whether that fear is due to crime, or lack of jobs and therefore revenue - we all want to be able to feed our kids, give them an education and decent health care and let them know that there is a rosy future.
We need to come up with solutions and then the resources to make these plans a reality. This problems impacts all of us. Let's be part of the solution.
Re: State of Public Emergency in Southside Belize City
#532189 09/07/1805:48 AM09/07/1805:48 AM
Anyone can be pulled into the police dragnet by stepping into the Zones
The zone encompasses the corner of Orange Street and West Canal to Racecourse Street by its corner with East Collet Canal and the corner of Vernon Street and Central American Boulevard to South Creek and onto Fairweather Street. Anyone can be caught in the dragnet by passing through the zone. Audrey Matura-Shepherd says the public needs to be careful of the human rights that are given up, simply by passing through these areas.
Jose Sanchez: “And this also includes anybody who would drive or walk into the areas as well?”
Audrey Matura Shepherd Attorney: “Oh I like that you ask that question because this is how I understand it and if I am wrong I want them to correct me because the proclamation is over a designated area. It has to be that if you were caught in that area for them to then apply all the provisions of section 18 of the constitution. If you are not caught in that area then it doesn’t apply so if I was a known gang member and I realized that my area has been placed under this proclamation all I have to do is if I have the means is to leave that area and make sure I don’t go through that area because they can’t come and catch you here in Belama you know and then want to apply the proclamation on you. You have to be in that area so for those who can move out and they know that they don’t have anything to be concerned about; move out and for those of us that are not from in the area avoid going through those streets so I think if people understand that it’s unless you are in the area that this proclamation will affect you and then it means that people won’t go in that area but it also may mean that business will be affected because there are business in those areas. I for one will avoid those ares because you never know they might just want to lock me up for talking against their thing and I know I wont keep quiet about it so it is key that those people who are detained; that the authorities can prove that they were caught in that area. It can’t be that you say well oh he usually live in that area so we apply to him; no. Where was he at the time he was detained? was he in Orange Walk? Was he in Corozal? then you can apply that proclamation. That is my interpretation because it was done per zone not per a profile of a type of group of person or by some known categorization. It was done by a physical zone.”
Voices on the Street give mixed opinions on State of Emergency
Love News hit the pavement on Albert Street in downtown Belize City and asked pedestrians for their opinions on the state of emergency.
Voice 1: “Police them are putting out a lot of effort to keep down the crime and I guess that is a good thing the strategy that they came up with.”
Jose Sanchez:“Nothing else has worked so far?”
Voice 1:“Nothing else has worked so far but we have to try something to keep down the crime to a minimum; probably to zero if possible because crime we could live without crime, we don’t need crime. These gang members they dont have nothing to contribute to society more than destruction.”
Jose Sanchez: “Do you agree or disagree with the state of emergency being declared?”
Voice 2:“Well to be real sir I disagree because people are making a living and they you know they should live it up. You can’t just arrest them for nothing; that’s just how the thing set but anyways sir I am looking to take a little walk with my friend them and thing.”
Jose Sanchez:“People getting locked up for 30 dyas what is your opinion?”
Voice 3:“I think it is a good thing that they are doing?”
Jose Sanchez:“and how about the part that you can be locked up for thirty days and anybody that walks through the area could potentially be detained as well?”
Voice 3:“I don’t know what to say about that.”
Jose Sanchez:“for thirty days at least.”
Voice 4: “Oh that one that is happening for the celebration. Well I would just want to say that not everybody want to have some fun; enjoy yourself you know I guess that’s the best thing I could say and you know have some fun.
Voice 5:“I see the government have created a problem and they are trying to solve the problem that they created. You know they were giving money to terrorist to go and cool off and now they are taking the terrorist and putting them in jail which I am not against because I think they should have done this from the very beginning. They are terrorist and terrorist ought to be dealt with the way terrorist are to be dealt with and they ought to have done that long ago. They should give money to law people and helping those in need and so.”
Has Chester Changed From Community Cop to Stormtrooper Commissioner
But, for all the hard talk and hype - we can say that life in zone #1 was cool and calm today. Out studio is a block away from the eastern boundary of that zone and we drove through multiple times today - and detected no heightened police presence - and life flowed along as normal, businesses were open and residents were going about their business unhindered.
Jules Vasquez tells us what he saw on the streets today - and he outlines exactly what areas are classified as special emergency zones:..
Today, the junction of West and King Streets was calm as compared to yesterday when masked soldiers guarded this same corner. We only saw one police pickup on patrol in this so called “Public Emergency Zone”. This zone #1 has its north-western border here at the junction of East Collet Canal into Cemetery Road
From there it runs straight down to Orange Street, where it has its northeast boundary at the corner with West Canal.
From there the boundary for this zone runs all along West Canal to the southeast boundary at Racecourse Street Bridge and it runs along Racecourse Street to its southwest boundary at Racecourse and East Collet Canal - which again runs all the way up to Pound yard bridge to complete this zone #1 - which Police believe encompasses the zone of influence of the George Street Gang.
Zone #2 starts here at South Creek at its junction with Dolphin and Fairweather - that’s the south-eastern boundary. This runs all the way up Dolphin across to Magazine Road and unto Vernon Street - which is the north-eastern boundary. It goes west on Vernon Street to its junction with Central American Boulevard - which forms the north-western boundary.
And it goes all along Central American Boulevard towards South Creek, for the southwestern boundary. This then runs the length of South Creek to make up Zone #2 - which police see as the zone of influence for the Banak Street Gang.
DCP Chester Williams - AG. Commissioner "Banak area and the George Street are the two areas of concern at this time and so those are the two areas that are captured in the proclamation of a state of emergency on the Southside."
An unprecedented state of emergency that is a long ways off from the Community Policing talk that Chester Williams came to the city with in 2015:
Chester Williams (2015) “The police will be doing more outreach to the community. This is part of our community orienting policing. Where we will go out, meet the public, greet the public, talk to them, see what their concerns are. Take advice from them. If there is anything they believe the police can do better. So we want to see how best we can communicate with the people in the area to help them alleviate their fear of crime.”
But now the time for communication is done:
DCP Chester Williams "Now some might say that we are really being heavy handed but the truth of the matter is I'm sure you all will agree that we have also talked enough with them and we need to be able to make them understand that the time for talking is done."
And those who were once just a family fun day away from redemption…
Chester Williams (2015) "Let's give these people a chance, let's give them the opportunity to try and make that change. If we have them out there shooting at each other, yes some might say, they'll eventually eradicate themselves; that will never happen. So the best we can do is to see how best we can help them make that change for those who want to make the change.“
Three years later, that cheery optimism had been exchanged for a hardened cynicism:
DCP Chester Williams "This is not a vigilante of jungle justice we have a legal system that is there for all and we expect that all will comply. When you join a gang knowing that you will not live long - you will be killed by you rivals."
Williams will be Acting Commissioner until tomorrow, when Commissioner Allen Whylie returns to the country.
Attorney Says State of Emergency is Preventative Detention in Disguise
Audrey Matura says that this is just a backdoor for government to activate the controversial preventative detention - which was put on the legislative back burner 7 years ago. That law was proposed in 2011 - and rejected in public consultations. She says government is now going to a constitutional extreme to do the same thing.
And, for proof of this, she points to the fact that the Carnival and Jou’vert route both go right through the heart of these areas demarcated as Public Emergency Zones. She says if there really is a public emergency that meets the threshold for invoking a state of emergency - then there’s no way police should or would put regular citizens through these zones. But they are, and she tells us what conclusion that leads her to:..
Audrey Matura - Attorney "If this section is saying that your right of movement, your right of association and your right of assembly has been suspended or anything they do, you can't claim that you had that right and they are curtailing it - then it doesn't make sense that you make any carnival parade go through those streets or any festive event. It doesn't make sense because if you're saying these areas are so bad that it endangers the public's safety, why would you encourage members of the public who are not resident in those areas to pass through these areas in a festive mood where people are in a different state of mind - are drinking and all of that. Why would you do that? If you allow it, my theory is them the situation was never that dire, you took the risk to bring thousands of people through that area and all you really wanted to do was use the power of the constitution to implement preventative detention and if you really only wanted to target gangs, we actually have news laws that help how to target gangs. That is what worries me, you could have had the same effect of going after gangs under the criminal justice act as you would have had or better than what you would have under the constitution where then you put the entire population in danger."
The Carnival goes down Central American Boulevard right unto Vernon Street - which is right along the border of special zone #2.
Human Rights Commission Says GOB Pressed “Panic”
And while Matura says the state has not limited the blanket powers afforded to police - the Human Rights Commission says government pressed the panic button prematurely - and at a great risk to citizens rights and liberties.
Vice President Kevin Arthurs told us more via phone this evening:
Kevin Arthur - VP, HRCB "We are saying that this is surely a troubling state to have 7 murders but we have to less panicky approach, a less messy approach to getting this done because at the end of the day we have to know what we're giving up to get what we're doing. It's going to be difficult for us to look at the current circumstances which a last resort meditative tool and say what do we do next and so I know everybody including myself and members of the board want to see crime stopped - but I don't think we should bite into the placebo that this extreme mechanism will cause to stop. If we buy into that snake skin oil then we're over as a state."
Arthurs pointed out that Jamaica has had a state of emergency in effect for St James Parish for one year and counting - but notes that they went through parliament to do so. In this case, the Belize government bypassed that and went straight to invoke constitutional powers. As we have pointed out - Belize has not seen a crime-related state of emergency since, 1981 in the Heads of agreements riots.
Human Rights Questions About State of Emergency Proclamation
It’s been almost 48 hours since the Government issued a proclamation issuing a state of public emergency on the Southside of Belize City. The unprecedented Statutory Instrument came into force at midnight on Tuesday - and within hours police were searching homes and making mass arrests in two designated Zones on the Southside. 100 men were detained - and police estimated that 75 of them will be jailed for at least a month. They will not be arraigned or afforded any of the normal features of due process.
Tonight, human rights advocates are pushing back. Attorney Audrey Matura Shepherd says that by declaring a state of public emergency Government used too powerful a provision of the constitution - and have not set any limits on those powers:…
Audrey Matura - Attorney "Calling a state of public emergency is not something you take likely you know. What that means, people don't understand that moment and that section 18 of the constitution what you do, you suspend the rights of people under the constitution. I find that when I listen to what was said at the press conference that they mention there is the proclamation but there is no talk about the regulations. So when you suspend those protections that the constitution, it has to come with a good reason and if you're not intending to use the blanket power then the regulation will curtail; like although the law says I can do all of this, I don't need to do all of this - here the regulation outlining the extent of the power I intend to use. That was never unveiled at that press conference and that's why I've been clamouring like where are the regulations? What are the parameters are you operating in? And it has not been answered. I pose the question on Facebook to Chester Williams since he was one of the key players behind and I've not received an answer and I think that's what you all need to be pressing for, the answer to that."
Reporter "Do you think it's a case where they simply do not have the regulations, they've not done it? Or they just don't want to disclose them?"
Audrey Matura "Once they have the regulation they have to disclose it, this is a matter of public interest. These things cannot be done behind closed doors. The reason it has to be disclosed because it infringes on your right and if they are going to curtail your rights, you have to know the parameters within which it's being done."
Tourism Minister Manuel Heredia Supports “State of Public Emergency” Measure
We did find today support for the proclamation by Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia. He has no problem with the Governor General invoking the constitutional powers to address the issue of crime; despite the fact that persons are being locked down for thirty days without any charges or being taken to court. Here’s what he had to say on the matter.
Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism
“There are times where we have to do what we have to do. Because many times if we have to listen to what the public has to say, we will not be able to do a good job. When there is the crime on a daily basis, you will hear the cry that nothing is being done, yet when they believe that they have a plan together that can be effectively taking care, there are people who and many times it will be the media and many times it will be the partners. And, again, we have to allow these people to do their jobs and see how it works. I am sure if they see it is something that is not working well, they will find an alternative to that. But at this point, it is getting out of hand. And from my experience, when it is getting out of hand you have to get together and see what is the fastest remedy that you can do and then plan for the future.”
“Are you in agreement with the step that they took?”
Manuel Heredia Jr.
“Yes, well when they want to enforce that they had to seek the Governor General’s signature before they can do that. There is a process. I cannot say if they followed every step of the process but I m sure that the measured steps of the process was followed and let us see how it works. I believe in giving it a chance to see how it works.”
“The U.S. Embassy, I believe, issued an alert for Americans who are in the country to be careful when traversing the south side – the emergency zone areas – are you concerned any at all that this will instill some fear not just for the people living here but those who are coming to visit?”
Manuel Heredia Jr.
“Well, the Embassy has a right to protect their citizens and whenever a single crime sometime occurs they will give their people warning. But Belize is a beautiful place and I am sure that we have a lot to offer to the world. And we have to do the best that we can.”
Men Detained Under State of Emergency Do From Detention Cell To Prison
Last night, we took you into the Queen Street Police Station - to show you the holding cell where over 60 men had been in detention for 6 days.
They were detained under the state of emergency that has been declared for 2 areas of Belize City. Additionally, the cops say that they are a threat to public safety, either through their supposed involvement in criminal gangs, or their participation in illegal activities, such as firearms and drug possession.
Their extended police detention may well have afforded the City a calm 10th of September weekend, but, critics are pointing out that from a human rights perspective, it just seems inhumane to lock down men, and load them into a crowded cell for 7 days without charges.
Well, today was that 7th day, and majority of the men were finally told in writing why exactly they were picked up, which legal minds tell us had to be done, or else the police would be running afoul of their authority under these emergency measures.
We've gotten a copy of the documents handed over to the detainees, and we're told for the most part, they are generic, but they are all signed by National Security Minister John Saldivar.
The document reads, quote, "Reasons for detention: Pursuant to Regulation 18… of the Belize Constitution (Emergency Powers) Regulation 2018, the Minister of National Security signed an Order for your detention…Section 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of Belize requires that you are to be provided with written ground upon which you are detained. Those grounds are as follows:
1. That you are engaged in acts prejudicial to public safety and public order, or the instigation of such acts and more specifically that you are engaged in: 1, in gang activities, 2, illegal possession of firearm and ammuition, and 3, murder…" End quote.
The document continues that the Minister is satisfied the detainee is to be detained from September 11th, until the end of the period of public emergency. It then continues that the detainee, quote, "is to be detained at Belize Central Prison or at such other place as may be authorized by the Minister".
And the Belize Central Prison was exactly the place that majority of the detainees were sent this afternoon. The Police transport for prisoners was loaded up with the men all deemed to be threats to public safety, and they were taken to Kolbe.
7News was at the Queen Street Police Station when the cops were preparing to take them up to the Prison, and we met several defense lawyers who completely disagree with how the state making use of these emergency powers.
Here's what attorney Leeroy Banner had to say after he read the documents for a few of his clients who were sent up today:
Leroy Banner - Attorney "My clients are very much upset with the way the police are handling the situation. They were held for 7 days and only today they were told the reasons for their detention. We were given some reasons. I need to go through them, but it seems to be saying that most of them are involved in gang activities and in possession of illegal firearms, but our contention is that these guys were never ever involved with any kind of gang activities and being held is a violation of their constitutional rights. So I will need to go through the reasons properly. I have to go to prison today and consult with them because when I came here this morning the police, understandable, they were dealing with so many guys and it was not conducive to speak with them at the police station because of the noise. Tomorrow or sometime today I will go to the prison and I will sit down with them and tell them what I think about the reason for them to be held and whether or not I think it is unconstitutional or not."
Reporter "Do you think that it is draconian at the very least though?"
Leroy Banner - Attorney "Of course. You cannot just detain someone without evidence. That's the first thing you need. So the police must have some kind of suspicion that these guys were involved in some kind of gang activities. So you cannot say that because you live in a particular area, automatically you are a gang member. Who will come and say that these guys are gang member? Where is the evidence to support that? So we are saying that on the face of it and the reasons given today, to me it seems that the law is being use unlawfully."
And attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd agrees with him. She was there to look after the interests of 2 minors who were caught up in the police net to detain all the civilians they think are threats to public safety. She said that she disagrees with the application of these emergency powers that have been given to police. Here's how she explained it:
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, attorney "I found out that there are 2 minors here being held along with adults and it's really unfortunate to find out that basic things like bathing daily they don't get to do. Some of them have not have changing of clothes and that's not only the minors, the adults. Initially they were being provided food by the police, but now they just recently, a couple days I think from yesterday, they have allowed the families to bring food for them. They sleep on the floor, because there is nothing. I mean not even a cardboard to sleep on. Unfortunately, because the place is so packed - they are trying to put 30 men in a little cell which is not even 10x10. Clearly they have to be lying next to each other like if its sardines I would say. They don't have good waste facilities - one says that he has to pee in a bottle when the officers don't get up to help him get to a bathroom. When they get desperate they say they pee and poo in the plastic bag, unfortunately. And so it seems that the conditions itself is really bad."
"Under section 18 of the constitution they suspend all of their rights. One of their rights they can't suspend is humane treatment and being placed in such a unhealthy environment is inhumane in and of itself. The state can say that they can perpetually detain them, but that's not true. While the initial state of emergency is for 30 days, within those 30 days there are specific conditions that must be complied with by the state and one of them is found that section 19 of the constitution, the subsection that deals with the fact that the police 7 days after your detention, had to tell these gentlemen orally why they are here and then after that had to give them in writing the reasons. I got 2 of the papers, because 2 of them got these papers and 2 didn't."
"This is what is amazing about this, because it says here the reasons why under section 19 they are being detained. I won't call name. For one, they say "involved in gang activities, illegal possession of firearms, involving in drug trafficking." If that is true, then they didn't need to do preventative detention of these gentlemen. If they [police] knows that they are involved in that - if you are saying someone has possession of firearm and ammunition, that's means you found them with it. Possession means you have it. Not that it's left at some place. So then there should have been charges, They don't need to be detained and release in 30 days. They need to be arrested and charged and prosecuted and hopefully there is a conviction. Those who clamor and say oh you are defending criminals - if it was their turn and it was their families, they would have wanted due process as well."
We also found a number of parents and family members of these detainees, who were all livid. We approached them for an interview, and majority of them declined except Sebastian Nunez Senior. He said that his son is no gangster, and that this police sweep is getting in the way of his application to become a BDF recruit. Here's what he had to say:
Sebastian "Sabe" Nunez, Concerned father "I have no objection to the police officers to the job what they are doing. We all need help with the crimes that are happening in our city, yes. But as the police says they know exactly who they want and who they are looking for. I have 4 sons; I have one son who works for the police as mechanic, I have 3 sons with me out here. Right now one is in prison. The police grabbed one from last week Monday when they started to pick up everyone on the street. My son works with me at Finnegan Market, because we wash cars in the morning time. My son woke up and came to meet me out there to wash cars, the police freeze my son and took my son to the station from Monday and now today is Wednesday - have my son for so long and now my son called me and told that they are looking to send him to Hattieville prison."
"My son went to do BDF test. My son passed the test and got a call to come back in on the 20th September to do his medical. He is to go back in on the 7th October for the 3 months training. Now how can my son do these things with the opportunity when he got hold down by police wrongfully? I have no objection with the police officers for doing their job, but my son is not a menace to society, a gang banging man like that to do thing out of the way that they have to grab my son and send him to jail. I can't talk for everyone. But my child I will talk for my child because I am their mother and father and I have to be behind them and look into them. My son is not doing any wrong on the streets like that."
We did check with officials of the BDF, who confirmed that there is a recruit intake, and that there is a 20 year-old Nunez who has indeed been accepted to become a recruit.
And today, Kevin Arthurs, the Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of Belize also sent a letter to the Commissioner of Police demanding accountability in the application of these special emergency powers that police now have.
In his letter, dated September 12, 2018, he says, quote, "…I am requesting an update and status report on… the Emergency Powers Review Tribunal as required… for an independent and impartial tribunal presided over by a person appointed by the Chief Justice from members of the legal practitioners… an account of the number and conditions of each prisoner held under this proclamation." End quote.
He also demands to see that there is confirmation that the government has complied with the constitution that each prisoner be given written reasons for their detention, the Gazetting of the particulars of the provision of law under which [each] detention is authorized, and the mechanism for detention and for accountability to safeguard against arbitrary breaches in fundamental rights and freedoms of those innocently detained.
His letter says, quote, "The Police Department must bear in mind that the dispensation by virtue of the Proclamation of the need for a warrant or other due process, checks and balances does not abolish the need for a lawful reason and just cause for any detention." End quote.
Now while the release of some of the detainees might seem like an act of mercy and compassion, there are a few people who simply can’t see it this way. As you heard last night, attorney Audrey Matura- Shepherd is against the enforcement of these emergency powers. She said that the rights of the detainees are being violated and that the conditions in which these men are being held are inhumane. Last week you also heard from the Human Rights Commission who says the government pressed the state of emergency panic button prematurely. Well, today Williams responded to all those critics. He says that under this state of emergency, the law abiding citizens are safe and that the detainees are not being treated any differently than any other prisoner.
DCP Chester Williams - Commander OPS “I will associate myself with the statement of the Bar Association in that we must ensure that we do this the right way so as not to infringe on the rights of the ordinary law abiding citizens and we have been doing our best to ensure that that doesn’t occur so if you should be hearing any attorney out there saying “Oh the police will lock you down, whether you are involved or not’’ I want to tell the Belizean people do not be distracted by those noise in the corner that wants to be heard but to go by what we have been saying. We have told the Belizean people what we are trying to achieve and we are not going to divert from the course we aregoing.”
Reporter “Sir what would you say to the assertion that when being held in custody the different groups were treated inhumanely particularly those being held here at the Queen Street Police Station where they were thrown into the cell block, a huge number of them and also when it was time for them to use the restroom probably the officers who were on watch were not there so they had to pass their waste in the cell right where they were. What are your comments to that?”
DCP Chester Williams “Mr. Picart, I honestly don’t know where that is coming from. As far as I am concerned the prisoners were kept in the same manner that we have always kept prisoners. There was no different treatment and if it is that the cell block would have been filled at Queen Street we would take them to Ladyville or Hattieville because we would not take them to Raccoon because Raccoon has the Banak crowd and we don’t want to have a mixture of both groups so I don’t know where the issue of inhumane treatment is coming from and we ensured that the cell block had a complement of officers sufficient to be able to respond to the needs of the prisoners for example giving them food, water and use of thebathroom.”
State of Emergency Not A Permanent Solution
So in the face of those critics and skeptics, Williams firmly stands by his decision to enforce the state of emergency. He says he is under no illusion that this is a permanent solution but he has hope that it will defuse those simmering gang tensions and decrease crime in the city.
DCP Chester Williams - Commander OPS “We have been trying a lot; we have had patience with these different groups. I in particular, I took time late at night doing interventions, mediations with them and try to get them to understand that the way of life they are living, instilling fear and terror in the lives of our ordinary Belizeans, majority of our good citizens live in prison in their homes because of fear of being on streets and fear of these individuals. It is about time that we take some measures to let them understand that the life they are living and the fear they instil in our law abiding citizens must come to anend.We are not going to say that this action will stop crime all together, as I said crime will always occur but I can assure you it will surely minimize the occurrences ofcrime.”
What Next After 30 Days?
So fast forward to after the lockdown period..what happens after all the men have been released ? Well, Williams says it doesn’t end there. Police will continue to investigate and more than likely re-arrest some of these men and charge them. Here is how Williams put it.
“What happens after the 30 day lockdown and as you said, if needs be you will extend this period as well, but many people are wondering what will happen next, is there a plan in place after these men are released?”
DCP Chester Williams - Commander OPS “Well as I have said before within the first 30 days, we will be looking at the investigations in respect to the offenses listed in the notice they got. If it is that we come up with evidence that will be sufficient to charge for any of the named offenses then we are going to do that. Another offense we are looking at is the gang membership offense and other offenses related to the gang legislation so, more than likely some of them will be charged under the gang legislation and if we can get evidence against them in respect to the criminal offenses then we are also going to charge forthat.”
“I guess we will be monitoring how things go from here and we will be in dialogue with our minister and our ministry and when the one month period is up then we will decide exactly what course we will take to be able to ensure we can continue to maintain some semblance of peace in BelizeCity.”
As Williams has said, under the law, this lock down period can be extended to as long as 12 months.
State of Emergency Nigh on to Expiry; What’s the Fate of the Inmates?
As many as fifty-one inmates from the George Street and Banak Street gangs are being released from the Belize Central Prison tonight, after being held in detention for the past thirty days. The men were all picked up during a predawn raid on their homes on the morning of September fourth. Since then, they were detained in Belize City and subsequently trooped to Hattieville as part of a state of public emergency that was declared in those two south side neighborhoods. The move has been described as controversial and human rights activists argue that their incarceration trampled upon their constitutional, as well as their human rights, since charges were never brought against them. During their time in lockdown, however, there was no intervention on the part of the state to attempt to bring the feuding groups together at the mediation table. Earlier today, News Five’s Isani Cayetano visited the Belize Central Prison where he saw the inmates on the yard. Here is that story.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Seeing these young men playing basketball together during their recreational time at the Belize Central Prison gives an impression that all is well among them. In fact, these are the groups that were hauled in during a roundup of two south side neighborhoods in the early hours of September fourth. On the court are members of both the George Street and Banak Street gangs, young men who have been feuding prior to their incarceration thirty days ago. Under the proclaimed state of emergency, they have found themselves here after spending almost a week in lockup at the Queen Street and Raccoon Street precincts, respectively. Responsible for their oversight is Virgilio Murillo, Chief Executive Officer at the Kolbe Foundation.
Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation
“It is just like they were not here, if you want to put it that way. We treated them with the respect for their human dignity like every other prisoner and they have not given any trouble. A couple of them were disrespectful in their behavior and violent and we disciplined those, and when I said couple, I literally mean a couple. But remember we got a total of fifty-one such persons and two out of fifty-one is nothing to worry about. I have had some sessions with them trying to see how I can curb them from the kind of thinking that they have, the whole issue of being in a gang. I had a session with them in my conference room and of course I have visited them on a couple occasions where they are housed.”
To avoid contact with each other, the young men, presumed to be active members of two Belize City gangs, were initially kept separate and apart. They are still kept in individual units, but efforts have since been made by the management organization to bring them together.
“I will tell you that they are cohabiting together, no doubt about it. They play sports and recreate together. That much I can tell you.”
“Initially, when we spoke of how these young men would be housed, you had mentioned that these young men would be kept separate and apart considering the fact that while out in society these are two feuding groups. How did the decision come about to have them cohabitate and to interact with each other either recreationally or in terms of the interventions that they’ve had?”
“Well, the first week we allowed them to sort of thaw out, if you want to put it that way. Certainly they were not housed together, even as of this point, they are not being housed together for the purpose of sleeping. But for the purpose of recreating, making your phone calls and playing sports, they do mix and I’ll tell you what, that is a strategy to try and at least let both sides regain that kind of trust in each other.”
Prior to being sent to prison, these men and the criminal organizations to which they individually belong to, were at war with each other. The bitter enmity resulted in a spate of gun violence in Belize City which began with the murder of Shakedi Baizar. That weekend at the beginning of September was arguably the bloodiest for 2018 thus far. With their release imminent, the question of whether they have been provided the necessary intervention to be successfully reintegrated into society, in light of the expiring state of emergency, is a pertinent query.
“As far as you know, their confinement for the past two weeks falls within the ambit of a thirty-day state of emergency and the expiration of those thirty days is upon us. Have you gotten any word from the powers that be, in a manner of speaking, as to when these individuals would be released?”
“As of this point no, I haven’t gotten any word any at all.”
“So it’s business as usual until you receive word that they are to be [released].”
“Until I receive word or until I receive a further warrant.”
Earlier today, attorney Audrey Matura who represents a number of these inmates, issued an open letter. That letter to the editor reads, “Today marks exactly thirty days since the proclamation declaring a state of public emergency was passed into law by the Governor General of Belize. I am waiting to hear at what time today these men will be released since their detention is only “lawful” for the duration of the thirty days that encompassed September fourth to October third, 2013. To hold them even a day or an hour beyond the thirty days would be a miscarriage of justice and yet just one more violation against their constitutional rights, as this proclamation has been riddled with errors or violations.”
“The police obviously, and the government obviously, was right on in respect of having them brought to the prison for this period because you and I know that since they have been here everything has died down, literally died down in the city. So the tangible evidence is there.”
When we left you last night, it was with the news that the 64 men detained under the state of emergency were being released after 30 days in jail - held with no charge, other than being gang affiliated.
Government decided not to extend the state of emergency, and so, last night, with hours to go before midnight, police went to the prison to pick them up.
7News was at the prison when they were escorted out, and Daniel Ortiz has the story of what happened next:
After a month on lockdown under the emergency measures, these 51 men from Belize City - all of whom police have determined to be a threat to public safety - were removed from the detention area of the Belize Central Prison. Last night was the last night of their 30-day detention by the state.
Various police transport and escort vehicles arrived at the prison compound to escort them out.
And after everyone was on-board, the police drivers left one by one in a convoy. Those reputed gang members waved to the cameras smiling, knowing that they were home-bound.
The press later caught sight of the 51 men at the Queen Street Police Station. Officers of the Gang Suppression Unit watched them closely as they exited the van, ready to react if any sort of altercation broke out.
It had been a very long 30 days of incarceration, but the 51 weren’t simply allowed to just leave. They were all escorted into a mediation session, but instead of trying quell gang squabbles, this session was more like a de-briefing.
Most likely, the mediators warned them they could end up right back at Prison under these same emergency measures. Deputy Police Commissioner Chester Williams yesterday said that police will be monitoring them, and if any of them commits an offense under the new anti-gang legislation, they will have difficulty getting bail.
Chester Williams - Deputy Police Commissioner "The house has recently passed the bill where persons who are charged under the gang related offences or gang membership offences that the magistrate court will not be able to grant bail to those persons, you will have to go to the Supreme Court for bail. So we're hoping that whilst they are charged that they'll be kept incarcerated. But again we still need to be able to monitor the activities of these young men whenever they are released; if they're released and for me I look at it that it is a matter for I look at it that it is a matter for them to decide the lifestyle they want to continue to live. I don't think that we must live in a society where the wishes or the safety of the masses is being compromised by the minority."
It’s a controversial decision that the Government and the police have made, and at least from the Deputy Commissioner’s perspective, this was the right play.
Chester Williams - Deputy Police Commissioner "It was not an easy decision but I always believe that the best decisions that you ever make in life are those that are the tougher ones and often times the tough decisions are also unpopular. But eventually you find that once people begin to see the goodness in whatever decision you have made, then people begin to gravitate towards it and they begin to welcome the decision."
Again in our story, we said 51 detainees. That’s the number that we got from the Acting CEO of the Prison, but the Gazette records say that 64 men were jailed under the emergency measures.