Jasmine Lowe is affectionately known as JLowe by her family and friends. She has only been gone for ten days; however the Belize news is so inundated with murder, mayhem, sexual predators and shootings that her memory is already fading in some people’s mind. Unfortunately, victims in most cases do not get more than two days of air time. There is no mechanism in place to follow the progression of investigations by the police; except two years later in a failed court trial when most people hardly remember the circumstances of crime or the names of the victims, a final epitaph stating “Two more get away with murder of X”.
The news presented to Belizeans are poorly researched stories with catchy headlines and just enough information to tell you what happened, without actually explaining what or why it is happening. The media creates a disconnection with the victims by reporting their situation in a clinical statistical manner. “Three shot this weekend” while desensitizing the populace with explicit images of dead blood ridden bodies or decomposing bodies. Ultimately people tune out crime news and express hopelessness in finding solutions. The victims’ families are left powerless and many times faceless and voiceless except for the two days of initial coverage.
Just a couple days ago the Prime Minister of Belize opened himself up to the media and the questions were wanting. The media houses are heavily dependent on Jules Vasquez to ask the tough questions while they feed off his questions to present their stories. When individually given the opportunity, they shy away from asking the tough necessary questions to help Belizeans understand what is happening in Belize. One person commented on our blog that the Prime Minister is insulting or vindictive. So what? That is a challenge of being a reporter. Ask the questions and stop taking things so damn personal. If you cannot handle the heat, get out the fire and make way for someone who will. (See Faye’s daily dingle berry: http://twocanview.com/2012/06/15/daily-dingleberry-06-15-12-why-uno-fraid-fi-dean-barrow/ ). The media must remember that they are a very important function of democracy. They have an obligation to present accurate unbiased information, ask the tough questions, research their stories and follow up and keep us apprised of the state of the country’s affairs.
As a people, we the citizens of Belize are also failing to be effective and productive citizens. Brent Toombs wrote an excellent article why we are failing as a society. (http://twocanview.com/2012/06/13/we-need-tougher-laws-but-not-for-me-by-brent-toombs/ ). We are too caught up in our personal narcissistic ways to contribute to the success of Belize. We say we want change, but we expect the government to implement changes as long as the changes don’t affect us personally. We vote for representatives, but we only claim that representative if he is from our political party. We fight; quarrel, point fingers; question people’s agenda; categorize them; and call people names. We lack basic respect for each other’s opinion. As a people, we are left blaming everyone and failing to see our own role in socieity. Ultimately, we will sink or swim as a nation.
So back to JLowe. I have been following this story very closely. Only thing I am sure of is that there is a deviant sexual predator that lurks out there. One that will attack more victims until he is caught and prosecuted or die of natural causes. I have been asking questions from attorneys, doctors and police officers. I am very interested to know about the investigative process. I want to know why so many of the court cases are failing. I want to understand so I can explain it to you. We need to understand what ails us as a society so we can undergo the process of healing our society
Here is what I found out as an avid follower of JLowe’s investigation:
- According to Belize law, we do not need a forensic pathologist to examine a murdered body, just a medical doctor, therefore, Dr. Estradaban do not need to investigate death, just certify it. I was additionally told cause of death is not necessarily important to present a murder case. I personally find that very hard to believe because reasonable doubt is immediately created when the state cannot prove cause of death.
- Belize do not have the facilities to handle decomposing bodies, so many autopsies are done on the site. According to one doctor I spoke to here in the U.S., crucial evidence could be lost performing autopsies in the field. Autopsies should be done in a lab setting. Unfortunately, until we have the facilities to handle decomposing bodies, as a health safety procedure, bodies will continue to be handled in this manner.
- I was flabbergasted when I found out the crime scene was burned. The reporter only reported the scene was burned; but had he done some more digging rather than just report this fact, it would have negated a lot of speculations from the public. I sought the counsel of an old teacher who is now a criminal defense attorney for the State of Texas. I asked him if burning the crime scene of a decomposing body was protocol in the cases he dealt with in the U.S. He stated that he has never heard anything like that and wondered why the doctor would order such a thing. Well here is the answer. According to Clyde Williams, investigator in JLowe’s case, Belize does not have the necessary equipment to sterilize these crime scenes and because it is human remains and there is blood, it creates a hazardous environment, so burning the scene after evidence collection is protocol.
- I was also interested in knowing why cases fail in our court system. According to Anthony Sylvester, the Irish Parliament did a review of their criminal justice system in 2006 (a system similar to ours) and found out that the justice system is skewed in favor of the defendant because in the past many people could not afford a defense attorney. Unfortunately, many laws are implemented in our system in an ad hoc manner without an evaluation of the justice system itself. So in other words we are implementing laws when we should actually be conducting a serious review of our legal system and restructuring our criminal laws. Belize is attempting to fight 2012 criminals with outdated, ineffective and poorly written laws. I think the Bar Association could play a vital role in addressing this issue.
There are some positives resulting from our dire situation in Belize. Mary Cariddi has successfully lobbied the government to have a ‘Jasmine Taxi Law’. The government is now in the process of changing the taxi laws and implementing an identification mechanism and background checks to register taxi drivers. This is necessary because we trust that taxis will take us to our destination without harm. The state will be providing safety procedures to ensure they can be held accountable and they are safe drivers.
Also, a group of interested citizens are creating a system called “Jasmine alert” to quickly update the public with information for missing children. The system will be a database that will keep people informed of when and where children go missing, their picture and background information. The idea is to galvanize the public into quick action to help locate vulnerable children before any harm befall them.
The First Lady of Belize, Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, has additionally indicated that the laws involving children are being revamped and we should see stiffer sentences and more protections for child victims. As it is right now, children are at a disadvantage in the court system and because of their innocence, they are many times re-victimized through the testimony requirement of the court system making prosecutions difficult.
The society seems mobilized against criminals as the theme “enough is enough” is being resonated by law abiding tax paying citizens. Citizens are realizing the limitations and difficulties the police face when investigating crime. People are trying to find ways to assist them. The time is now to become part of the movement to influence the changes we want in our society. This is not a political issue Belizeans, this is a Belizean issue.
Until Belizeans know what need to be changed and lobby their leaders effectively, we will continue in a downward spiral until we have no other choice but to suspend our all our laws and start over from scratch. In such a scenario, many innocent lives will be lost. I appeal to the media to stop with the half ass reporting and begin to dig deep. Research your cases and explain to the Belize people why things are the way it is. You are the watchdogs of our society. I also appeal to my fellow Belizeans to become proactive citizens and become part of the movement for your children’s sake. I implore Belizeans abroad to network and find ways to donate to Belize to improve our society. We are all Belizeans and Belize is worth fighting for!