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A State of Public Emergency

Posted: Friday, September 7, 2018. 10:10 am CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Lisa Shoman: About 1/4 of Belize City, two distinct areas of the Southside of the old capital were placed under a Constitutional “lockdown” by proclamation of the Governor General on September 4, 2018.

But the headlines in the “foreign press” state simply that Belize City is under a state of emergency.

For most of us who live in the biggest city in the Jewel, it must feel like sweet vindication to hear that instead of us being imprisoned in our homes, night after night by “badman” and gangsters; the BPD has conducted a rake and scrape operation and locked 100 “bad actors” up for the next 30 days.

The common sentiment is that we celebrate the good riddance to bad rubbish. Lock up deh rass. Fling weh di key.

Then what? After the temporary good feeling of this police action virogrip wears off, our City will still be sick. We will still need the antibiotics of long term measures to deal with crime out of control, a crippled justice system and citizen insecurity.

According to the National Security Minister, Under the emergency powers granted under the constitution, if we should wish to have an extension of this thirty-day period we will have to take the matter to the House of Representative and I as the minister do intend to do so if the circumstances do so warrant.”

According to the Ministry of National Security, “this is a last resort in anticipation of mass events during September celebration to allay any fears among the citizenry.”

The Minister also says “Under the emergency powers granted under the constitution, if we should wish to have an extension of this thirty-day period we will have to take the matter to the House of Representative and I as the minister do intend to do so if the circumstances do so warrant.”

Do the circumstances warrant? It is important to hear, from the Acting ComPol as to why the State of Public Emergency was declared : “Last week Friday we had the murder of Shakedi Humes which took place near the Matron Roberts Clinic in Belize City. 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 with them, got intervention with them and they were released Saturday in the evening and they promised that they will 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. We have also talked enough with them and we need to be able to make them understand that the time for talking is done where they are concerned, unless they intend to really and truly change the way they do things.”

He goes on to say : “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.”

What the Proclamation of a State of Public Emergency is about, then, are gangs who are “not cooperating “ and show “no signs of improvement”.  It is about locking down sections of the city, to try to punish a few in the hope that they will “behave themselves”.

Guess what? Instead of declaring a State of Public Emergency in order to lock up gang leaders and gang members for the next 30 days, Police already have the power under the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, No. 6 of 2018 to ARREST, CHARGE and TRY gang members.

If convicted, those gang members would serve YEARS, not days, in prison.

That law states that it was passed to make provision “for better maintenance of public safety and order through discouraging membership of criminal gangs and the disruption and suppression of criminal gang activity.”

The penalties under that law are quite draconian. Section 3 provides that “A person who is a gang member, or in order to gain unlawful benefit, professes to be a gang member…commits an offense… and is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.”

An accused gang member convicted on indictment for a second conviction can end up in jail for up to 25 years.

For accused gang leaders, the amendment has harsher penalties. On summary conviction a person accused of being a gang leader can be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison.

A second conviction on indictment can land a convicted gang leader in jail for up to 40 years.

Participation in the activity of a gang can lead on conviction to 20 years in prison.

A gang member who intentionally, by any means necessary, wounds or causes grievous bodily harm, or shoots at with intent to do some grievous bodily harm, a police officer, a prison officer, a member of the Belize Defense Force, a member of the Belize Coast Guard, an Income Tax officer, commits an offense, and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 30 years.

Harbouring a gang member is an offense and on conviction, an offender can be sent to jail for up to 5 years.

The law has severe penalties for benefitting from gang activity, helping to conceal the proceeds of the gang-related activity of a gang or gang member, for hindering an investigation and for recruiting gang members.

It  thorough, comprehensive and 35 pages long. Here is the link :  https://www.nationalassembly.gov.bz/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Act-No.-6-of-2018-Crime-Control-and-Criminal-Justice-Amendment.pdf

This Act should and could have been invoked and enforced – but instead a State of Public Emergency was declared for the next 30 days.

And there is no apparent plan to deal with crime during and after those 30 days – other than a promise to extend the State of Public Emergency, if conditions don’t “show signs of improvement “.

This State of Emergency Proclamation is a feel good measure. No doubt about that. But it is also Virogrip when what we need are antibiotics. We are treating the fever and the sneezing. We are not curing the infection.

The BPD and the Ministry of National Security has not given any good reason why this law was not used instead. They owe us that explanation.


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