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Is the Belize Police Department racially profiling citizens ?

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Is the Belize Police Department profiling young men based on the color of their skin and what they believe is their economic status? Attorney and former Senator Lisa Shoman believes so. Shoman who speaks out on several issues, says racial and economic profiling of citizens is alive and well in Belize. Shoman used the example of three schoolboys in uniform who were stopped by police last week. According to Shoman, the officers questioned the boys and searched them. She says a WPC then began taking pictures of the boys. Shoman says this is not legal.

Lisa Shoman, Attorney

“For quite some time I’ve been told and I have seen for myself police pulling over young men in Belize largely Latino and Black and questioning them, sometimes searching them. I had not seen the phenomenon of them being photographed but when I started asking questions I have identified several persons, some of whom I know very well, who have related their experiences in being pulled over by the police – being asked everything from “where do you live?”  to “where you are going? to what are you doing here ? to “why are you driving this vehicle?” ; and photographing them. And when people ask what that’s for you get an expletive, expletive “noh ask me no questions.” and the police seem to believe that they are entitled to interact with citizens in this way and they can’t.”

Hipolito Novelo, Love News Reporter

“Is it legal?”

Lisa Shoman, Attorney

“No it’s not legal.”

Hipolito Novelo, Love News Reporter

“Is something wrong ethically?”

Lisa Shoman, Attorney

“Yes there are, it’s more than ethically wrong Hipolito it is constitutionally wrong. There is a principle in the constitution called ‘Fundamental Rights and Freedoms’, it’s more than a principle it’s a guarantee, and we the people state that one of the things that our nation is based on is faith in human rights and our fundamental rights and freedoms. These are inalienable rights, they cannot be taken away from us, not even if there is a state of insecurity unless you were to suspend the constitution and declare a state of emergency which is not what we are at right now. So no you can’t do it because it’s against due process, it is against your right to privacy and it may very well be against your freedom of movement, freedom of association.”

According to Shoman, as a first step, victims of what she says is racial profiling should file a complaint with the Professional Standards Branch. Shoman also says that the matter can be taken before the courts.

Lisa Shoman, Attorney

Obviously this is going to have to be tested in court because the police are profiling on a racial and an economic basis and sometimes both at the same time because let’s get it straight I’m not being pulled over in my SUV for the police to take my picture. It is happening to young black brothers and Hispanic brothers in Belize and it is not only happening in Belize City I am getting increasing reports that it’s happening in places like San Pedro, Orange Walk, Corozal, it has to stop because if the police think that they are implementing a policy that is correct they are sadly mistaken.”

Hipolito Novelo, Love New Reporter

“What if someone argues that these practices of these police officers are in an effort to fight crime in Belize City?”

Lisa Shoman, Attorney

“I understand and I perhaps even sympathize with the argument except that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it and you cannot do right by doing wrong. This is the problem that when these cases go to court let’s say for instance someone on the street was stopped wrongfully dealt with and for some reason thereafter taken to court these are the reasons, these are the technical reasons for which prosecutions in Belize fail. This is some of the reason why we have a 3% conviction rate, because you do the wrong kind of ID, you don’t do witness statements properly, because you don’t give the correct warning, because you detain people for too long or you detain them in inhumane conditions or quite frankly you beat them and abuse them.”

The media asked the Belize Police Department to comment on the topic and the Department’s Legal Advisor Senior Superintendent of Police, Bart Jones disagreed that it was profiling. He said quote “Our definition of profiling is where a class or certain group is selected or singled out by the police. This is not what is being done.” End of quote.

Lisa Shoman, Attorney

“If it’s not profiling what it is?”

Hipolito Novelo, Love News Reporter

“Our definition of profiling is where a class or certain group is selected or singled out by the police, that is not what is being done he said.”

Lisa Shoman, Attorney

“That is exactly what is being done. A group, a race is being singled out by the police, young black men or Hispanic men who are either walking or riding a bike or in some cases driving a vehicle that looks too fancy for what the police thinks they should be driving. It is profiling and for any police officer to be in denial, particularly a police officer with legal training, is absolutely and completely unacceptable. There is nothing wrong with you stopping somebody on reasonable suspicion okay? Reasonable suspicion and if you are going to stop a person on reasonable suspicion understand that you have to have reasonable grounds for that suspicion; it cannot be arbitrary, it cannot be just because how you look, it cannot be just because you are young black and carrying a knapsack, it cannot be because you are driving a fancy vehicle while black, it cannot be because you are a Hispanic young man on foot walking in a neighborhood that you don’t think he belongs — it is profiling at that stage. If you have reasonable suspicion the thing to do is to ask the person to come to the station and conduct a proper investigation there.”

According to Jones, complaints against the police officers have decreased because officers have a record of the physical condition persons were left in after a ‘stop and search’.

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