Authorities Crack Down on Suspected Gang Members Amid Rising Violence with A State of Emergency

Authorities Crack Down on Suspected Gang Members Amid Rising Violence with A State of Emergency

In response to escalating gang violence, today, authorities initiated a sweeping crackdown under a State of Emergency, targeting over 90 individuals suspected of gang affiliation. The operation aims to curb the rising criminal activity plaguing portions of the Belize and Cayo Districts. However, the move has sparked controversy and outcry from relatives of those detained who are alleging wrongful targeting by law enforcement. Reporter Vejea Alvarez tells us more.

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Earlier this morning, police officers descended upon homes in targeted neighborhoods in the Belize and Cayo districts. Officers and the Belize Defense Force soldiers rounded up over 64 men suspected of gang affiliation under a state of emergency. The crackdown was sparked by a violent week, particularly in the Old Capital, where three murders were recorded. Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, flanked by his top cops made the announcement. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police:  “As a law enforcement organization and the primary one at that in Belize we have a responsibility to the people. And if it is that we have to implement measures that is going to work for a period of time until we can look at longer lasting measures, then it is going to happen. I believe that the SOE will work for the purpose for which it is being implemented. And again, it has a lot to do with making sure that we go after the right people and that’s the reason why we have our intelligence unit put together a list of persons who we have credible information against are involved in the ongoing feuds across the city. I am sure that you will be quite comfortable once the peace comes when all these people are in prison you’ll be able to walk the streets how you want without having to be worried to be caught by a stray bullet. That is what we want. Citizen security is important for everybody.” 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: However amidst the crackdown concerns have emerged regarding the criteria used for identifying and detaining individuals. Families of those rounded up argue that many of the men are not involved in criminal activities and are being unjustly penalized.

Grace Avila, Nephew and Brother in Law targeted under SOE: “They didn’t try. They shouldn’t have victimize them because that is like they’re victimize them because at the end of the day it makes them turn victims. I understand they did wrong and I’m not saying that the were good, they did wrong, they made mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. But when you are trying to right your mistake the police itself are not giving them any help.” 

Martha Avila, Son locked up under SOE: “Because they said they went to pick up the people and he was there at the wrong time. That is all I could say. I say everywhere it affects him because he has kids to mind, he has his lady and things like that.”

Grace Avila, Nephew and Brother in Law targeted under SOE: “I’m not sure if they’re sending them out on SOE but the understanding that we got is that they’re sending them on SOE. Now I understand that they used to do bad things and I understand that they have their mark as certain things but they’re trying to change. So to me I don’t see it fair and my understanding is that they already know who did.” 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News:  Williams denies the claims and assured residents that the men who are not found to be involved in the recent shootings will be spared the three months of imprisonment. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Yes certainly there’s still going to be a need to filter out. I don’t think that everyone who has been detained will be going to prison. We want to make sure that we just go after those persons who are a part of the problem currently. If it is that there are players who are not active and have been working with LIU or behavior modification we want that to continue. So we’re not going to disrupt that from occurring. So yes, to answer your question, we’ll be filtering through. It is one month in the first instance, but I am pushing with my minister to see if we can get it for three months.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: But what sparked the uptick in the deadly shootings that forced the commissioner’s hand? He attributed the flare-up to a concert two weeks ago and claimed the disc jockeys insinuated violence through the music they played.

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Like I said this whole spate of incidents began at Trinibad concert or whatever you may want to call the event that they had.  And I again maintain my position and I don’t care what anybody has to say. But I don’t believe that as a country we should allow that type of music in our country. Those type of entertainers in our country, they cannot DJ in most parts of the Caribbean because of the type of music that they promote. Anywhere Trinibad goes and play, whatever they do, there are murders. That’s their reputation. And why do we have to bring them here when we already have a society that is vulnerable to gangs? Who, people who are going to imitate what they hear in these songs that are being played. And so like I said, they had the concert, certain things took place at the concert and there was where everything started. It spilled over after the concert and then permeates the city. We now have to deal with the aftermath of that.” 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Many have questioned the SOE’s efficacy given the fact that it’s the second time in less than a year. However, Williams denies it being bandaid fix to the crime problem and points to the results seen in El Salvador. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “SOEs are something that many countries in the region are looking at because they have seen how effective it has worked in Salvador and every government wants the people to be safe, wants the people to be free. Our government is no different. Our Prime Minister, our Minister have been harping the importance of making sure that they keep our Belizean people and our visitors safe. That’s the reason why they invest in the police department. That’s the reason why we get more police officers. And that’s the reason why we have to take measures like these at times to make sure the safety of our people. Yes, there are a handful of people who are out there trying to create havoc for us but their rights cannot trample the rights of the majority.” 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: While the men will be locked up, their release is inevitable. So what happens then to ensure they do not return to their lifestyle of crime and violence? Well, Williams says it’s as simple as locking them up again. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “I’m not a fortune teller. I can’t say what happens in three months time, but at the end of the day I can tell you what will happen between now and the three months period is that we will do what needs to be done to keep the criminals at bay. They need to get the sense that we have had enough. And if the three months come and they come out and they come and do foolish things, then they’re going back again.”

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