By Marion V. Ali
Protesters numbering almost 300 during the height of a riot in Succotz Village, Cayo on Tuesday successfully blocked the George Price Highway with tires and tree branches which they set on fire to demand swift action against Deputy Commissioner of Police, Miguel Segura following Saturday’s fatal road traffic accident.
The rioters were also denouncing actions which they thought to be privileges granted to the senior law enforcer – actions described such as policemen escorting Segura home to shower and change before taking him to the police station, cleaning the government-issued Nissan Pathfinder he was allegedly driving when it crashed, and not immediately taking his blood/alcohol level with a breathalyzer, a new standard procedure being promoted in an ongoing traffic safety campaign.
The crowd, bearing placards demanding justice, assembled as early as 6 a.m., and were adequately prepared with pint bottles, rocks and tires to sustain their mission for the entire day. Their intent was to interrupt traffic for commuters and tourists wanting to traverse the highway to signal their discontent with the justice system. They pointed to a previous incident in 2009 when a brother of Yolanda Valencia was killed in similar fashion without anyone being arrested, charged and convicted. They told reporters that they didn’t want compensation for the death of Valencia and serious injury to her cousin, taxi driver, Yanie Cu, 28, but they wanted justice and they were intent on making sure that the Police Department did not protect Segura from facing the consequences. Their biggest gripe was that this guardian of law and order had by his own volition, breached the same law which he had in his career upheld and arrested people for violating.
“You see when he pulling up his pants, smoking like nothing happen, if I do that I must come out and help the victim. He don’t do that…we are upset”, one protestor remarked. Another threatened to go find Segura at his home in Benque and administer their own interpretation of “justice” after becoming restless waiting to see if he was going to be charged.
The police, led by Aaron Guzman, the officer commanding the Western Police Region and Assistant Superintendent of Police, Daniel Arzu, exercised extreme restraint, particularly when the Fire Department was summoned to extinguish the blaze and they came under attack with rocks hurled as missiles. The fire personnel retreated and Guzman and Arzu spoke to the crowd in an effort to appeal to their better judgement. “We understand certain sentiments, but there are other Belizeans who need to go about their normal business”, Guzman said. “However as you saw earlier when we came in we withdrew some of the police officers…if these people decide that they want to picket and not block the street, the police will escort them to do their picketing, so we are only here to keep the peace and do our portion as the law allows.”
Later Guzman explained why certain measures were circumvented. “There are some people suggesting that the alcohol test could have been done by the breathalyzer. That is not yet legal in Belize”, Guzman said. “We do not go by that. That is why blood was extracted and it was taken to the lab. There is a process that is done at the lab to test the content of the alcohol. It is I can say to you above the legally prescribed limit. We have prepared the charges…the justice of the peace will sign it. Mr. Arzu, the arresting officer will sign, Mr. Segura will be charged at the station, that’s his constitutional right.”
Arzu, who told the protesters that in his line of work he doesn’t see the offender, only the offense, tried to disperse them without using force. “Now you all need to work with me because I need to have Mr. Segura arraigned here…and I need to access the road so that he can reach to the courtroom. The charges are here and it is signed by a Justice of the Peace. This is an original signature. Thank you”, Arzu concluded.
The crowd did not yield, but after it became evident that Segura was going to indeed face all the possible charges matching the offenses he is accused of, heavy duty equipment was brought in to eventually clear the road and restore law and order.
Over in San Ignacio, another group gathered in anticipation of the senior officer’s arrival for arraignment. He never arrived. Segura, was instead taken to the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court where he met with his attorney, Ellis Arnold, Senior Counsel, and was reportedly kept at bay from the public.
The closure caused bottlenecks on both sides of the barricade, extending for as far as a mile on either side and causing passengers on commercial buses to have to walk the distance on both sides to meet a connecting bus to their destinations.