Prime Minister Dean Barrow is no stranger to national security as a former Minister and Attorney General. But even then, he never presided over a period of incidents as brazen and in-your-face as what has been happening. So even as measures were being announced to curb the immediate spike in crime and ensure a safe finish to the September Celebrations, the P.M. made an unusual suggestion – that persons currently in detention for these murders and shooting incidents may not in fact be charged, or at least he does not know that for sure. Here is how he explained that.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“I won’t interfere with the Police deciding that they don’t want to release the names of some of those that are currently being detained. You asked about whether any of those being detained will be charged with murder. That’s something that I don’t know the answer to. But, if I had to guess, I would say ‘No’.
I say this, frankly, in order to make the point that, when I sought the meeting with the Police, I wanted to know if in fact there’s confirmation that the death of Mr McFoy, who is Brandon Tillett’s father, sparked the reaction. Would we not have anticipated the response, and what was done to try to isolate, detain, incarcerate, the players, that we would legitimately have suspected, would have legitimately have known were likely to be involved in retaliation?”
The Prime Minister went further, advocating for new approaches to remove offenders from the equation. He was unusually strident in his call for enforcement of applicable laws to address the problem, including a suggestion that more gang members be charged for being gang members, which is a criminal offense. Keep in mind that the Government has been employing many of these persons through private sector construction projects and not too long ago he sat with them to negotiate a truce after a brutal clash between the GSU and members of George Street in 2011. But here is how he explained it.
” I am saying that we have passed all sorts of laws. There is an offence on the statute book that has been there for years. We’ve tried to tweak it. We tried to make it more robust, but that essentially says membership in a gang is illegal.
Those in the media in Belize City know who the players are. The Police know who the players are. There may be difficulties from an evidential point of view, but if we keep referring to these people as gang members and affiliates. how come we’ve never charged any of them with the offence of being a member or a leader of a gang? Are we afraid that we will go to court, and that we won’t be able to prove the case, and that would be some sort of a moral victory? Well, we’ve got to try at least.
I am still learning that one of the persons being detained will be charged with some offence of Causing Public Terror. That reassures me, because you’re very unlikely to get them for the actual offence of murder or shooting somebody. So you’ve got to come at it in different ways.”
Among other long-term proposals are the revival of the Safe Zone Initiative pioneered under RESTORE Belize and the special targeting of so-called “youth recruits” of gangs, by applying for a care order to get them away from those hardened elements.