Belize started off with two gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, some 30 years ago. They have since grown to more than a dozen.
The functioning gangs in the city include (in alphabetical order) the Back-a-Town Gang, the George Street Gang, the Gill Street Bloods, the Ghost Town Crips, the Krall Road Crips, the Kelly Street Crips, the Majestic Alley Crips, the Supall Street Gang, the Taylorâ€™s Alley Bloods and the Victoria Street Bloods.
These gangs have sprung up, each in its own depressed neighborhood, and so far as we can tell, each appears to be an independent entity, a fraternity ofÂ homies who find companionship and camaraderie in its neighborhood niche.
Each one of these gangs guards its territory with eagle eyes, and no member of a rival gang is allowed to enter the demarcated territory.
Each gang has its loyalty code to members of the same gang, but to no one else.
Recruits have to prove themselves if they want to become members. They have to do something macho, such as stealing a gun, or robbing a store.
With time, the gangs in Belize have become more cynical in the things they are prepared to do. They started off controlling the marijuana street trade.
People looking to get their daily â€œhitâ€ must buy their marijuana from an accredited gang member, and marijuana being funneled into the city from the rural areas must go through certain channels before it can be released into the streets.
In order to keep track of â€œbusinessâ€, the gangs need many eyes and ears, and they have developed a sophisticated intelligence network so that within minutes, during the day or during the night, they can detect an intruder and deal with the threat.
The street trade in marijuana may still be the mainstay support, but gangs today also accept â€œcontracts.â€ The contract may be merely to beatÂ up somebody, but some contracts are accepted to kill other people. This willingness to shoot and kill is the most worrisome aspect of gang life. Once the gangs lose their respect for human life, they become truly outlaw and a menace to society.
Gang life has never been free of violence. Intimidation is at the heart of its philosophy. But there was a time when life in the gangs was easy and deeply satisfying. Members did not have to work, and the money from the street trade in marijuana was enough to keep members happy. All a gang member had to do was keep a sharp eye out for policemen and intruders.
But as membership grew and the number of gangs multiplied, the marijuana street trade, profitable as it still is, was not enough. Successive gang leaders began to look at robbery, jacking and murder as acceptable ways of keeping the gang functional.
Tensions began to build whenÂ the bigger gangs sought to expand their territory at the expense of the smaller gangs. This was the beginning of internecine gang strife such as the rivalry between George Street and Rocky Road and between George Street and Taylorâ€™s Alley. The strife continues to this day.
But life in the gangs is no longer easy and deeply satisfying today, and there are many who would call it quits if only they knew how to do it. But they are trapped; trapped by their neighbourhood, trapped by their inability to escape from their past, trapped by their friends, trapped by their ownÂ cultivated indolence.
The security and easy lifeÂ which the gangs once offered do not exist any more. Gang members have to face an occupational hazard every day, and gang members have slimmest chance of growing to full maturity.