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Sep 13, 2018

Chester Defends Month-long Incarceration of Gang Members

Forty persons including adults and minors who police have determined are gang members have been transferred to the Hattieville Central prison where they will be locked up until the end of this month.  On Wednesday, which marked the seventh day since they had been detained, the group was transported to prison from the holding cells of the Queen and Racoon Streets stations. They were handed documents stating why they were held but won’t be formally charged as permitted under the state of public emergency imposed in two south side constituencies where the gangs have been active against each other.  But their thirty-day incarceration has come under fire from human rights experts and attorneys who argue that the rights and freedoms of these people are under attack.  After the thirty-day period, the police say some can be charged with gang- related offenses. At a press conference today, sought to cool down concerns over the process of their incarceration. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

As many as forty young men from two inner city neighborhoods remain under lockdown at the Belize Central Prison tonight.  They are being held in segregation, away from the general inmate population, and, more so, away from each other, as it is common knowledge that both groups are presently at war.  Their incarceration, however, comes as a mixed bag, a polarizing state of affairs which has divided the masses.  At the heart of it all is Deputy Commissioner Chester Williams.  Not only is he a legal mind, he is also responsible for the operations of the Belize Police Department.


Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations)

“All the persons we had in custody have been dealt with and ferried over to prison.  Those persons who were not taken, they were released because of the fact that after we have sieved out the list those are the persons who remained.”


The initial number of detainees stood at approximately one hundred and ten persons as of a week ago, following a predawn operation last Wednesday during which perceived gang members were rounded up from George Street and Mayflower communities.  For many, the raid was sweeping, capturing in its breadth persons who may not have been involved in gang or criminal activity.  That figure has whittled away considerably, but whether or not the department has achieved its objective through a state of emergency is anyone’s guess.


Chester Williams

“We have been trying a lot, we have [borne] patience with these different groups.  I, in particular, took time late at night doing interventions, mediations with them and tried to see how we can get them to understand that the way of life they are living, instilling fear and terror in the lives of ordinary Belizeans, majority of our good citizens live in prison in their own homes because of fear of being on the streets or fear of these individuals.  It is about time that we take some measures to be able to let them understand that the way of life that they are living and the fear that they are instilling in our law abiding citizens must come to an end.  There must come a cutoff point and I believe that we’ve reached that point and the decision to have done this, I think, is the right one.”


With that said, the Kolbe Foundation which manages the Belize Central Prison on behalf of government, has had to take on these young men.  But was the organization or a representative of the penal system involved in that decision-making process?


Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation

“I, personally, never participated but we have a controller of prison who represents the Government of Belize and more than likely, because he resides onsite and he is here every day, more than likely he may have been summoned to a meeting and he was probably part of the decision making with respect to that.”


This short-term policy which has since been implemented by decree, is soundly criticized as a stopgap.  It is not seen as a permanent or long-term solution to the hemorrhaging that continues to take place in the city streets.


Chester Williams

“We will continue to monitor how it goes from here.  We are not going to say that this action will stop crime altogether.  As I have always said, crime will always occur, but I can assure you that it will surely minimize the occurrences of crime.”


Isani Cayetano

“In hindsight, wouldn’t it have been more surgical to go for specifically who you want, as opposed to a dragnet that corrals all of these persons and then you start weeding out the ones that you don’t want?”


Chester Williams

“But that’s what we did Isani.  Don’t you think that if we had gone with a dragnet we mi wahn bring een di whole ah Banak and di whole ah George Street?  We picked up a specific amount of persons because those were the ones that we wanted, but at the end of the day there are some who are gang members and are actively involved in gang activities and there are some who are gang members who have been dormant for some time.  Those who have been dormant, we don’t want to drag them into what it is that we are doing.  We’ll leave them along to continue with their life and try to continue down that peaceful path.  We don’t want to bring them back into the arena, so they were allowed to go.”


Those who weren’t allowed to go are in detention for the remainder of the month. Undoubtedly, it is enough time for anger to fester among them, but in a controlled environment it may be difficult to act upon.


Virgilio Murillo

“We can reassure the public that certainly we do not expect these guys to come here and carry on their deviant behavior.  We have all systems in place that I am sure will be able to control them.”


What happens upon their release into society is yet to be seen, and is cause for concern for law abiding citizens.


Chester Williams

“Within the first thirty days, we will be looking at the investigations in respect to the offenses listed in the notice that they got.  If it is that we come up with evidence that will be sufficient to charge any of them for any of the named offenses then we are going to do that.  Another offense that we are looking at is the gang membership offense and other offenses relating to the gang legislation.  So more than likely, some of them will be charged under the gang legislation and if we can get evidence against them in respect of the criminal offenses then we are also going to charge for that.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Chester Defends Month-long Incarceration of Gang Members”

  1. Marie says:

    Yeah, members can still be held once they have been found guilty of committing a crime. You people are so stupid, you would rather had these criminals roaming the streets than see them locked up.

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