A look into the militarization of police in Belize.
The world was recently shaken by the live and online murder of George Floyd by a white man, a police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department. It was yet another piece upon the mounting evidence of the extraction of Black bodies by systematic killing. I still haven’t watched the video, I can’t. The photo still of that 8 minutes 46 seconds was enough for me.
I always remind myself to stay grounded even with my historical knowledge of what white supremacy and colonialism has done to us in this region and country and so I asked myself, as you should, what Mr. Floyd’s killing and all African-American police killings mean to us here in Belize?
Let’s explore the militarization and or Americanization of the Belize Police Department to start to answer that question.
We first do that by going back a decade or so to documentation from the US State Department:
“During the year the Belize Police Department’s (BPD) Professional Standards Branch received 238 formal complaints of alleged police misconduct. During the same period, the BPD held 14 officers on interdiction (suspension with half salary) and one suspension (with salary.) The 14 officers on interdiction were alleged to have committed a combination of criminal and disciplinary charges. The ombudsman reported receiving 99 complaints against the police department and its personnel, of which 39 percent were characterized as complaints of brutality, 18 percent of complaints of harassment and 17 percent as complaints of abuse of power.” (US Deparment of State, 2011)
This was reported some 9 years ago, fast forward to 2019.
“In 2018, 43 percent of the complaints received by the PSB were for police brutality. The human rights ombudsman also received complaints against the Belize Central Prison for allegations of inhuman treatment of inmates.” (US Department of State, 2019)
These two reports are different in terms of how they are reported on empirically but you can see here that the number of police brutality are pretty high. They help us understand the systematic and cultural nature of violence in the security forces. I encourage everyone to look into these reports for your own information. We can, of course, cite the more relatable stories ranging from any of the state of emergencies placed on Belize City or a regular day of profiling stop and search methods. We can also cite the more gruesome stories of the killings of Fareed Ahmad and Alyson Major both cases that are still being investigated, we are told. We can also look at the online mockery of Ulysease Roca while in police custody, a young black man later found dead at his residence a little after that detention. My point here is that we can all cite an instance of police brutality whether direct or indirect.
Now we look at the training of our officers. Last year, around this time a group of creatives hosted a protest in front of the Police Training Academy in Belmopan. It was against a security force training being offered by the Israeli government. A government that has been vile and aggressive against the self-determination of Palestinian people, a government that has stood on the side of Guatemala in refusing to acknowledge Belize’s sovereignty, a government that has historically trained police officers of the Amerikkka. Outside of that, the US government has consistently funded our security response in this country one of the largest being through its Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) which just last year disburse $750,000USD to social programs in Belize. (Breaking Belize News, 2019)The US Department of Justice has also trained 29 members of our Criminal Investigative Branch through its International Criminal and Investigative Criminal Assistance Program done in coordination with the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). (US Department of Justice, 2020) Twenty officers of the Belize Police Department was also trained at the request of GOB in 2010 by the Naval Criminal Investigative Criminal Service in the Tradewinds Program. (U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South, 2010) This and other US government interventions corroborated by Chief Executive Officer George Lovell in a 2019 interview that he covered the ‘Reorganization of the Belize Police Department’ (Ministry of National Security, 2019) While I am not against good old diplomacy, I do understand that the US foreign policy is not one that has historically had the best human rights records and moral leadership. These are all pieces of evidence that prove that the face of our police department operations is being fashioned Uncle Sam style.
Finally, we look at some colonial remnants being perpetuated through our present system of neo-colonialization. A piece of legislation that Ms. Coye, one of our most prolific and intellectual callers on WUB coins as legalizing a “conditional right to life.”
Chapter 4 section Part 2 article 4(2) states:
A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section if he dies as the result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably justifiable-
- for the defence of any person from violence or for the defence of property;
- in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
- for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny; or
- in order to prevent the commission by that person of a criminal offence,
- or if he dies as the result of a lawful act of war.
A justified death penalty if I ever saw one and done at the discretion of a police officer that has at some point in his career come in contact with the Great American way of policing. My first lesson on interacting with police from mommy has been, “nevah mek police man run”, and well you don’t need to do much to have them run to you. Simply make a Facebook post erring on the side of dissent and watch police officers in combat camouflage show up to you house with weapons arsenal fit to fight a border conflict. An uneven war of words if you ever asked me. I’ll let you decide on whether or not Americanization and Militarization of Police are synonyms.
“…sweet and docile, meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day they change their mind.-Warning by Langston Hughes
First published in the June 30th 2020, Tuesday edition of the Amandala Newspaper, Issue No.3379 pg 6.