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Dr. Gayle: S.O.Es not effective strategy against gang violence

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

The use of State of Emergency (SOE) to lockdown criminal elements is not a very effective practice, Social Anthropologist Dr. Herbert Gayle opined to The Reporter this week.

Implemented as direct responses to upsurges in gang violence, the Government of Belize (GOB) has implemented multiple SOEs, with the August 2021 proclamation being the most recent in a string of such measures since 2018.

Like most initiatives, there are always positives and negatives to be weighed, and SOEs are no different; however, according to Dr. Gayle, the disadvantages over shadow the pros.

The Pros of SOEs

On the positive side of things, Gayle explained that the SOEs help by giving people of the ‘outer city’ a sense of safety. They see the poor and disenfranchised shut down and they feel safe. Some people in the “inner city” also feel safer when the communities are shut down. It even helps the ones who were losing the war to live a bit longer.

Aside from a sense of security, Gayle explained that it affords the authorities a window of time to get “a break to plan the way forward.” Additionally, he underscored that the emergency measure also “allows the State to have access to areas that would have been restricted under principles of democracy.”

The downsides of SOEs

Despite all the listed advantages, the disadvantages are immense.

Gayle explained that it worsens the mind state of youths who are involved. They become fearful and as a result, become dangerous.

The restrictions also do not address food or other basic necessities. It instead limits their resources due to the lockdown. It also does not help parents and the communities become safer, because, ultimately, none of the underlying problems are being fixed. This, therefore, only gives people a false sense of hope and security.

“Morphinization”, a term coined by Dr. Gayle to describe the situation of false security, is applicable to this ad hoc crime-fighting strategy. “Imagine that you are supposed to do surgery and they give you morphine,” Gayle analogized. “You are there happy under the influence, but you still need the surgery. In the Caribbean, they give you the morphine but not the surgery; and you are dying slowly. The people are also learning to accept the States giving them the morphine but no surgery.”

He further added that the initiative violates the rights of the poor who are constantly paying the price for these criminals. Aside from the rights of the less fortunate, it also burns out the police. States that use SOEs constantly see more police officers suffering from mental illnesses and stress.

Gayle concluded saying, “[SOEs] provide short-term gains; however, it damages the society and increases violence in the longer run.”

“Social violence is a byproduct of our social ills,” he explained. “This means that if we have a stable society, we cannot have high levels of violence.”

According to data by the Belize Crime Observatory (BCO), Belize’s homicide rate has averaged above 34 per 100,000 from 2014 to 2019. During 2020, the combination of COVID-19 regulations and SOEs helped to bring that rate below 30 per 100,000 for the first time since 2013.

Gayle said, “The average homicide rate for the world is 9 per 100,000 (2020 figures). … At [more than] 30 per 100,000 … your homicide is extreme.”

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