State of Emergency Declared as Gang Violence Erupts: Dozens Arrested

State of Emergency Declared as Gang Violence Erupts: Dozens Arrested

Tonight, dozens of well-known and suspected gang members are behind bars, and many more are soon to be detained.  Police are on the hunt for these men after a State of Emergency (SOE) was declared in three areas of the country. The SOE seeks to quell an ongoing war between several factions in Belize City and Cayo after they resulted in three murders. Most recently, police officer Dylan Anthony was shot and killed in Roaring Creek Village, and his death, although an apparent case of mistaken identity, is believed to be an act of retaliation. Reporter Vejea Alvarez tells us more. 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Specialized police teams and BDF soldiers swarmed southside Belize City and portions of the Cayo District this morning, rounding up alleged gang members. In the face of three murders and a spate of shootings, the Commissioner of Police, Chester Wiliams, declared a State of Emergency in portions of the old capital, Roaring Creek, and Camalote Village. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “A state of emergency was declared this morning covering almost the entire southside Belize City and the Hattieville and Another World area of Roaring Creek Village as well as Young Bank area of Camalote Village. And so we also have police and BDF operating in Roaring Creek and Camalote picking up those persons who we believe are part and parcel of the flare up of gun violence in the Belmopan area.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: In recent months, the police and the Leadership Intervention Unit have been working with various gangs to quell the violence, but Williams says some of the factions are hellbent on feuding. He notes that the SOE is a last resort but says the department will not be throwing up a white flag on its soft-handed approach. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “I don’t think that any reasonable Belizean would ever say that the government and the police is not doing enough. We have an entire LIU program which is geared towards helping young people to help those young men who are caught up to see how they can come out of living that lifestyle. We are doing interventions, they are given employment opportunities so the truth is that the government and the police is trying but again we all know that there are going to be those persons who will not want to live a peaceful life and may continue to live that violent lifestyle. And so the SOE is geared at going after those persons.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Wiliams underscored that the SOE would not affect the everyday lives of law-abiding citizens and denied that the SOE was a sign of the police failing in their duties. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “To say a failure of the police what does the police have to deal with ? The police have to deal with the failure of society. Your brothers, your children, your uncles, those persons who chose to live a violent lifestyle it’s not the police raise them they’re raised in their respective homes and they turn out to be what many families do not desire them to have become but that’s how they become and so the police have to end up dealing with those persons.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: The Statutory Instrument says that a public emergency has arisen… and states that the alleged gang members will spend one month behind bars at the Belize Central Prison. And according to Williams while the men are locked up, investigators will be working to bring additional charges against them where necessary. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “The intention is one to have them investigated by CIB because many of them are being accused of shootings or even murders and then some of them are also being accused of being a member of a gang. So the CIB are going to be able to follow up on those shootings and murder investigations while the GI3 will be able to follow up on the gang issue to see if we’ll be able to come up with charges to charge them for being a member of a gang. The SOE gives us that ability because one of the things that we are getting from witnesses when we have these shootings is that fera to cooperate with the police because they fear retributions coming from those persons who are accused of committing these shootings and murders. So with them being in prison it will be able to give people the opportunity to be able to speak freely to the police without having to worry about repercussions from those persons who are involved in these crimes.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Five gangs are currently at war in Belize City, according to Williams. He says the SOE will ensure tensions between these groups and others in Belize City do not boil over into more bloodshed. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “It had reached a stage where if we don’t do something then the cancer is going to spread further and the other gangs are going to feel that oh over there is flaring up and nothing is being done to them so better we have our own thing too. So we have to ensure that we do something that is measurable and that is going to bring some calm.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: The police will be issuing wanted posters for the men they believe were able to elude this morning’s round-up. Vejea Alvarez, Love News.

One of the main criticisms surrounding the State of Emergency has been the violation of human rights that comes along with it. Many activists have questioned the legality of persons being locked up without charges being brought against them. However, while the measure may infringe on some aspects of a person’s rights, the Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, says the good outweighs the bad. 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Which rights is more important ? The rights of fifty persons who hold the country or the city hostage or the rights of over a hundred and forty thousand in the city or the rights of four hundred and forty thousand people ? We have to strike a balance and I’m sure that some human rights activists are going to agree that as a part of human rights we have to look at the greater picture to see if we’re going to allow these people whose rights we believe should be protected to continue to extinct themselves. I think that if we allow the extinction to continue then we will be in breach of human rights norms because we’re seeing a trend and we just allow it to continue. The fact that we stepped in and do the SOE to get them to have a pause and to rethink I think goes in line with maintaining human rights norms.”

Williams added that more persons may be detained under the SOE if necessary.

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