Two gang-related incidents last week show the emergence of city-based gangs to be forces to be reckoned with.

The funeral last Sunday of slain gang leader Kendis Flowers was a staged event, calculated to show the community that life with the gangs is a life to which many of our young men aspire. Many youths, some of them wearing gang colours, attended the funeral, and one or more fired shots into the air as a gun salute to their fallen comrade.

Later when a cohort of police and GSU forces arrived at the gang’s Ghost Town stronghold to establish a police presence and to carry out investigations, residents of the area met the lawmen as intruders, and tried to drive them off with abusive language and hostility.
The police stood their ground and fired shots into the air when the women became overly aggressive. In the end no one was hurt, and thanks to police restraint, the situation was contained. But the two incidents demonstrate in clear body language that gangs are being widely accepted as desirable fraternities for poor and unemployed members of the community.

The mystique and attraction of the gangs for unemployed working-class families are hard to explain to others who have not experienced hunger and rejection and parental or police abuse. The assurance that big brother has your back and is looking out for you means a lot to young people who live on the edge, even though statistics show that gang members live short lives. What matters to them is not tomorrow, but today.

Most gang people believe in God. They invariably opt for a church funeral service when the end comes. But for them gang law supersedes the civil law and even the law of God. While they live, and because of the life they live, God is not relevant. He plays no part in their lives. Even when they kill, gang people feel no remorse at taking a life that they cannot give back. It’s the way of the jungle. Kill or be killed!

Religion can play a redeeming role, but so long as hunger and unemployment are a real presence in Belize, and as long as there are city ghettoes, gang people will continue to look to the fraternity for support and comradeship. Those who try to leave the gang are treated as deserters and frequently wind up dead.

An often overlooked role is the part women play in the gang brotherhood. Women are openly supportive of their men. They protect them and make excuses for them. They too appear to have grown immune to murder and gun violence, as long as these do not come too close to home.

The scourge of the gangs will continue to plague Belize for many more years. We need to make long-term plans for putting more resources into the development of our young people and for maintaining a strong police deterrent to those who for selfish reasons would destroy our peaceful way of life.

We have suggested a bi-partisan political approach. Let us start with our political leaders for leadership ideas, and see where we go from there.

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