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Feb 20, 2002

Businesses close, citizens rally against crime

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Crime is one of those unique evils that everybody deplores, but no two people seem to agree on its solution. That dilemma was apparent today as a hastily organised protest by the Chamber of Commerce proved enormously successful. Shops were shuttered nationwide and earnest citizens of all ages and economic status stood together to voice their frustration. What nobody seemed to know, however, is what happens next. Ann-Marie Williams reports from Battlefield Park.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

Businesses shut down for the day and many employees were told to attend a half-day rally at the Battlefield Park organised by the Chamber of Commerce to protest the country’s latest crime wave.

As many as two thousand Belizeans packed the park in what amounted to a ground swell of support–although for what was not entirely clear. For Chamber President Dr. Gilbert Canton, it was time for his members to express their frustration.

Dr. Gilbert Canton, Pres., Belize Chamber of Commerce

Today the business community is signalling to the criminal element in a very emphatic way. That is that it is escalating its efforts to take back our streets from the criminals. The nationwide shutdown is an enormous cost to businesses and the fact that we are here in person is initiative of what we intend to do. Take a snap shot of our present situation, yes, the criminals are willing, everyday we seem to be further and further involve in a losing battle. Do we give up? No! We must intensify our efforts and look to the new and innovative solutions in the medium and long term. But first, we must stop what is happening now. In the short term, we must erase crime and set upon it the ultimate justice. We must hang crime until it is dead, dead, dead.”

While the crowd was clearly out for blood, Fr. Lazarus Augustine who spoke for the Council of Churches, told them that more killing would do nothing to curb the crime problem.

Fr. Lazarus Augustine, Council of Churches

“Find a secure place where you can put them away for good, separate from the minor offenders who can be easily rehabilitated.”

For master of ceremonies Nuri Muhammad, each individual has a role to play.

Nuri Muhammad

“We cannot leave this to politicians alone, the government has its responsibility. But they are only one of the players, the Chamber of Commerce as Dr. Canton just articulated, recognises that they are also one of the players. But we also have many street groups, street organisations that is also a part, and they also have to be at the table. We cannot try to solve the problem by just getting some highty-tighty weh look like elite and then you wah come down into the ghetto and solve dah problem. It no wah work! You have to get those youths from the very beginning, involved in the process, get them into the ownership, let them understand that this Belize belong to you bwoy.”

While many of the speech makers put their own spin on the causes of crime and what can be done to reduce it, it became clear that there were as many opinions as there were people in the audience.

Peter Carter

“The have-nots are the majority in this country, the haves are the minority in this country. And nobody wants to do anything about the crime situation because it has not stepped on their door. This is why I am here in solidarity, trying to do the best thing to try to in other words reform and help the government with solutions in terms of how to deal with the crime situation.”

Rosalie Staines

“What kind of opportunities, what kind of hope and future can we give our youths? And that is why most of the young people that are in crime are young people? If they don’t have jobs, they don’t have education, they don’t have a future and hope, then we are going nowhere.”

Ibrahim Abdulah

“The crime situation is something that will never, never be curbed unless you can deal as my sign say it, be serious. And to be serious you have to done away with double standards in order that people respect others.”

One man who came out to protest the injustice of crime is Evrald Augustine. He was robbed at gunpoint last year while driving on the job.

Evrald Augustine

“I would like to see they get rid of all the thieving from off the streets, because right now I barely could go and sell ice cream because my boss fraid to send us out. Because he said he fraid that they jack the truck again, so I don’t have a job right now.”

Police Press Officer G. Michael Reid says a sure-fire way to crack down on crime is for law abiding citizens to assist the police.

G. Michael Reid

“There are those out there who are perpetrating a criminal propaganda that would like for the people to not have faith in the police. Because guess what? When the people don’t help the police crimes don’t get solved. This is why many crimes aren’t solved, because what they try to do is intimidate the police from doing their job and intimidate the people from speaking against those who are committing the crime. At some point, I think what is happening is that people are not only tired of those who commit crimes, but those who condone it and support those who commit crimes.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“The speeches are finished and the crowd has dispersed to enjoy and half-day holiday. What the criminals are doing at this time is anybody’s guess. Nothing that has occurred here this morning guarantees any action against crime, but at least it has brought a glimmer of hope to a public that for too long has had none. Reporting from Battlefield Park, Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.”

While observers could debate whether the size of the crowd at the rally was impressive, there was no question that the Chamber’s call for a one-day nationwide business shutdown was massively successful. With the exception of government offices and essential services like electricity, telephone, banks and the news media, it appeared that over ninety percent of Belize’s private enterprises, large and small, closed their doors from eight to five. Among the few inconveniences reported were students who couldn’t find midday snacks and alcoholics who awoke to find that their morning “shake-up” was locked down behind the doors of padlocked rum shops.

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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