Reviewing efforts at community policing to solve gang problem
Peace is holding in the streets since last week’s committal to a gang truce among the string of opposing gangs in the city. There are still hurdles to cross, but for the past week there has not been any gang-related murder. The latest gathering of the gangs was held on Tuesday. Deshawn ‘Jawhi’ Morris is a reformed gangster; his message is that conflict can be worked out without violence. News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks back at how community policing can serve as the medium to reduce gang warfare.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The number of gang-related homicides in 2016, according to official statistics released by the Belize Police Department, stood at seventeen by year’s end. That seemingly nominal figure, however, is indicative of an escalating issue. The explosion of criminal activity across the city, particularly linked to rival groups waging war upon each other is a social phenomenon that has, at times, brought law enforcement to its knees.
File: January 11th, 2017, Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police
“Many of the murders that occurred were crimes of opportunities and many cases were not preventable from the police side. You must understand that there are other issues that drive the level of crimes out there, in particular murders, because of the various disagreements between the different groups.”
Having implemented several measures in an attempt to overcome that challenge, the department has turned to community policing. It’s a model that has been criticized as ineffective in certain corners of the agency, one that has also proven to be fairly helpful in addressing the issue of gang violence.
File: September 28th, 2016, ACP Chester Williams, Commander, Eastern Division South
“We are seeing some results; we are not yet where we want to be, but what we want to do is show the community what we are doing as a department to be able to make them feel safe and secure in their respective homes. Just to put police in an area as a form of deterrent will not curb the crime situation. So in addition to the additional patrols we have put in, we have also intensified our mediation and intervention with different groups within the area and that too is playing a significant role in us getting to where want to go; to be able to restore that degree of safety that the members of the public rightly want. So we will continue those efforts in ensuring that we maintain dialogue with the different factions because at the end of the day, what we want to do is make these young people understand that there are different ways to resolve their conflicts rather than through the use of force and violence.”
It’s a powerful message being delivered to members of the various groups. Deshawn ‘Jawhi’ Morris is a reformed gangster. He’s also an emissary of that idea.
Deshawn ‘Jawhi’ Morris, Motivational Speaker
“The space that they’re in right now, I’ve been in that space and I’ve elevated beyond that. So now I’m just trying to give them a little bit of what helped me get to a place where I could forgive my enemies. I got dead homies too, I done been to prison, I done been shot at, I done shot at people, I done shot people. I done did the whole nine. I done buried thirty-six of my friends, so none can’t tell me anything about what it takes to forgive somebody. So I’m just kinda trying to share those things with them to kinda try to elevate their minds to get them out of that space of hate because that’s what’s fueling them.”
While there are indeed personal disputes among rival factions, much of what also provides that impetus is the lucrative sale of narcotics. Drug use among Belizeans, particularly the consumption of marijuana, has spiked in recent years. So too have the ensuing turf wars. The rising death toll carried over seamlessly from the end of 2016 into 2017.
Diane Finnegan, Youth Apprenticeship Program
“Two weeks ago, we did a session at one of the schools here on the south side and one little girl stood up and she said to Jawhi, “My brother is in the gang. Sir, can you please tell me something that I can tell him so he can stop.” And her tears started falling. These guys don’t see that. They just, they are on the move and they have no time to look back and see who is hurting while they are gone.”
Perhaps there isn’t much time to stare in one’s rearview while barreling down the fast lane. For friends and families of victims of gang violence, vengeance is often just a heartbeat away and that failure to look back, more often than not, spells doom for the perpetrators of such crimes. So, with another gang truce pending, are these individuals absolved by their enemies for the murders of their peers?
Isani Cayetano Reporting for News Five.