Vengeance, Not Justice by: Brent Toombs


I decided to wait a few days to write this for very selfish reasons.  I wanted to bask in the moment of feeling that maybe Belize has made one small step on the long journey toward social redemption.  I wanted to enjoy the feeling of pride that my country is finally fighting back, standing strong, and demanding justice.  I wanted to relish this moment that for once the good guys are winning and a bad guy is going down.

Wednesday, June 20th 2012, is one of those days that we will always remember exactly where we were when we heard that Bert Vasquez had been charged for the murder of Jasmine Lowe.  Probably no group of people will have stronger memories of that day than the thousand or so people who gathered at the foot of the police station in San Ignacio to voice their demand that justice be served.  It was a remarkable day.

Problem is, few were actually demanding justice.  What that crowd, as well as many Belizeans throughout the country were – and are – calling for is vengeance.

Vengeance, not justice.

When you live in a society where more than 90% of all violent crimes go unpunished, it’s no wonder people get frustrated to the point that they want to take over the roles of judge, jury, and executioner.  The system is broken and people are tired of sitting back while no one seems interested in fixing it.  But if you are one of those people who would have been satisfied to see Bert Vasquez simply executed on the spot, without trial – or worse killed at the hands of vigilantes – ask yourself is THAT really the type of society you are so passionate about fighting for?  Is your idea of a functioning democracy one where emotional mobs arbitrarily determine the guilt, innocence, and punishment of people?

I am not suggesting Bert Vasquez is innocent.  From what I know of this man, he has clearly demonstrated that he is a menace to society.  Sending him to prison will be a good thing for Belize.  But did he kill Jasmine?  We will likely never really know for certain.  The police have decided to charge him and the public is eager to believe he is the murderer.  Case closed, as far as the court of public opinion is concerned.

If he walks, it will be because the police bungled the investigation or his family afforded him a crafty attorney.  If he gets convicted it will be because society demanded he be found guilty at any cost.  Let’s face it, we WANT him convicted because we will all sleep a bit better believing that at least one monster is finally off the streets.

Or will we?

Once the emotion subsides will we question how we came to the conclusion that Vasquez is responsible for a murder?  No witnesses.  No DNA.  No cause of death.  Just a ring.  A ring that the police seemed to be very eager to let the media know about.  A ring that the mother of Jasmine Lowe seemed very deliberate – yet somehow awkward – about describing to reporters.  Am I the only one who felt like she might be reading someone else’s script?

Again, I am not suggesting this guy is innocent.  But I am not comfortable with how quickly we all were to assume his guilt and demand vengeance for his crime.

Vengeance, not justice.

For good reason the Belizean public is usually very skeptical of the police.  That is, apparently, until they tell us what we are desperate to hear.  In the days before Vasquez was apprehended, the police were considered inept.  We fully expected yet another unsolved mystery.  But suddenly no one dares question the police or their investigative abilities.  They got him!  Woo-hoo!  Now let’s kill him!

One of the moments from June 20th that will stay with me forever is seeing a former “person of interest” in the Jasmine Lowe investigation address the crowd.  This taxi driver had previously been detained for questioning.  During the time he was in custody the rumour mill was running at full speed.  People claimed he was found with a stone from Jasmine’s ring in his taxi.  Apparently he had scratches on his face, assumingly from when Jasmine tried to fight this man for her life.  He drove a white taxi, similar to the one seen in the grainy security video that seemed to be the only lead police had.

When he was released there was outrage.  Some people believed the cops had let Jasmine’s killer walk out of the police station.  The cops were criticized while the taxi driver was shunned.  His business suffered as people believed him to be a murderer.  But just a few days later, there he was addressing the throng of people gathered outside the police station, demanding vigilante justice for this angry mob that just a few days earlier would have eagerly ripped him apart limb by limb!

I hope Bert Vasquez is responsible for the death of Jasmine Lowe.  Truth be told, I want him to be guilty.  As a nation we need him to be Jasmine’s killer.  But I hope he either confesses or is convicted based on irrefutable evidence at trial so there can be no doubt about who took the life of that poor little girl.  I, just as much as any Belizean, want to feel the satisfaction that will come when we finally see a predator pay for his crime.  But most of all I want to see a civilized society at work.

I want justice, not vengeance.

We all deserve a moment to vent.  It can be healthy as long as we don’t get carried away.  But for the long-term health of our nation, let’s harness this momentum and energy and put it towards building a society that is truly fair, just, and civilized.  Deep down, I think that’s what we all really want for Belize.

After all, there is enough blood in our streets.  Do we really need any more blood on our hands?

Belize is worth fighting for by: Aria Lightfoot


Map of Belize

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: https://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. (https://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

Jasmine Lowe- Murdered victim

Here is what I found out as an avid follower of JLowe’s investigation:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Belizean Flag

We need tougher laws. But not for me by: Brent Toombs


Jasmine Lowe – murdered

Another young girl is dead.  The country is momentarily galvanized by outrage and grief.  Another vigil will be held.  People are calling for protest marches.  “Enough is enough!” we cry.  And ultimately what will change in Belize? 

Absolutely nothing.

 

I hope to God I am wrong.  I really hope I am underestimating the people of my nation.  I hope that one day soon we will look back at the tragic events of this week and remember Jasmine Lowe as not just another unsolved mystery, but as an angel sent to bring real change to our beleaguered country.  That her death was the tipping point when society finally moved to take real concrete action and accept the burden required for change.  That in the wake of this young girl’s murder, Belizeans finally decided they would become part of the process required to return our country the “tranquil haven” we love to sing about.

 

Unfortunately, recent history has shown that once the emotions subside we will not only return to our apathetic ways, but we will actively resist any attempt to improve the situation.

 

I remember attending a vigil and rally for the victims of “Jack”, five young girls who were sexually assaulted and murdered in a short period between 1998 and 1999.  The murders of those children remain unsolved.  But back on that day the most recent murder was still fresh in our minds and the emotions were raw.  When one of the speakers called for the “immediate ban on heavily tinted vehicles” the crowd roared back with its support for such a simple measure that would be one very small step towards making the streets safer for women and children.

 

Over a decade later, when government finally brought in legislation to limit the level of tint the majority of Belizeans balked.  The talk shows lit up with callers complaining that they should be allowed to tint their vehicles as dark as they please.  The opposition party openly ridiculed the government and dismissed this regulation as useless whimsy.  People, as they are prone to do in our country, simply thumbed their nose at yet another attempt to regulate anything in our society.

 

Now I am not suggesting Jasmine Lowe would be alive today if people complied with the law on vehicle tinting.  It’s not that simple.  But it is a perfect example of how we seem to resist every attempt to regulate society as soon as those regulations impede in the slightest on our own personal freedoms.

 

It’s absolutely useless to demand change and march in protest if we then turn around and fight the very authorities we call upon to change things.  We all want proper enforcement of laws and regulation, but we don’t want to actually comply ourselves.  How can any central authority be expected to effectively manage society if we resist every effort to impose regulations on us as individuals?

 

It’s time to face the fact that many of us are part of the problem.  It’s time to admit that everyone of us who disregards the simplest effort to bring order to chaos contributes to the wider problem of crime and violence.  Every time we expect to be exempted from the rules that govern our society, every time we resist additional regulations we undermine the entire system of law and order in Belize.

 

The police put up a checkpoint and we grumble about the 3-minute delay in our commute.  The law says we can’t serve alcohol to minors but we let the teenage girl drink in our bar or restaurant because the men buying her drinks are good (or well connected) customers.  The government says we must pay our taxes and duties yet we hide our transactions or use our connections to avoid contributing our fair share.  Most destructively of all, we turn a blind eye to those around us who operate outside of the law.

 

Every person in Belize seems to have a justification for why the rules are for everyone except themselves.  Political affiliation, economic status, family lineage, social network, race, gender, attitude, even level of attractiveness and physical prowess all seem to be legitimate exemptions to the laws and regulations that only ever apply to someone else.

 

You say you want to live in a safer society.  You want the government and law enforcement agencies to crack down on law-breakers.  You demand change.  But are you willing to play your part in that process?  Will you abide by increased regulation and enforcement efforts, or will you push back as soon as law and order becomes inconvenient for you?  Will you help pay the cost of public security or will you continue to work outside the system in order to benefit yourself?  Will you use your ballots to elect people of integrity to manage the affairs of our nation, or will you sell your vote to the candidate who offers you special favours?

 

A good friend of mine once described Belize as a “wonderful balance of order and anarchy”.  The problem now is the scale has tipped way too far in favour of anarchy.  It’s not just the gang-bangers, and drug dealers, and sexual predators who are destroying Belize.  We are all part of the problem whether we actively contribute to crime and disorder, passively resist attempts to improve the situation, or simply stick our heads in the sand.  Belize is broken. It’s seriously f*cked up.  There is nothing unpatriotic about saying that out loud.  The first step is always admitting you have a problem.

 

Yes, it’s a long and dotted line that connects the cyclist who rides against traffic, the bar owner or shopkeeper who does not abide by the condition of their liquor license, and the business person who cheats on their taxes, to the animal who would kill 13-year old Jasmine Lowe.  But how can we expect a society that cannot even adhere to the most basic tenants of order and governance, to protect our most vulnerable citizens?

 

I am encouraged to see Belizeans come together in this moment of national grief.  I am comforted by the fact that despite the overwhelming amount of senseless crime and violence we are exposed to daily, something can still touch our collective soul.  By all means, please take to the streets to march in protest.  Hold vigils in remembrance.  Flood the talk shows with angry pleas for justice and improved security.

 

Then take a moment to look inward and ask yourself, will you work to improve our society or resist those efforts once they become inconvenient for you as an individual?