Who was Keino Quallo? Many people see a black unshaven face and a headline. “Four Gangbangers brutally murdered”. He matches what people think a “gang” banger looks like. They have no idea of who he is or where he came from, what led him down his path. All people know and feel is that they are stricken by fear because of violence. Any solution, even state-sanctioned murder, is an acceptable solution. The thinking is, he was a menace to society – so who cares, he probably have killed many more people and getting his just desserts.
Not so fast…
I met Keino in High School. I must have been about 14 years old, my second year in High School and he was one year ahead. Keino arrived in Belmopan with such notoriety. He was arrested in the U.S. for drug trafficking at the age of 15 years old. His father was a well-known attorney, Glenford Quallo, was recently murdered.
Keino popularity grew fast at Belmopan Comprehensive School. He was charming, articulate, athletic, tall, and very intelligent. He was a snappy dresser and carried himself with a lot of confidence, therefore the women flocked him. We became friends because my best friend was dating his friend at the time.
I found him very interesting. His experiences and world -view and his perspective on different issues. He was, if I recall, a die-hard PUP supporter and in my mix of friends we had both die- hard PUP and UDP supporters. Our discussions would range from politics to law to life. My God we were only 15 at the time! We also shared sports in common. We both played basketball and played on the school teams so we travelled all over Belize playing sports.
About a year into our friendship, we started dating. He was a generous and extremely loving boyfriend and my parents would have none of it. He gave me gifts that I had to return a day after it was given. My mom was concerned about his reputation and well my dad probably would not have approved even if Jesus were the suitor. In Belize, there really are no rooms for mistakes or second chances. I would fiercely defend him to my mom because I knew him far more than the reputation that followed him.
We became very close when my mother got sick. He was truly my rock during that very difficult time in my life. We would study together, have future plans and we trusted each other.
Maybe my mother’s death signaled a change in our relationship. Maybe death had him reflecting on the death of his father and changed him. He reflected often in his life. If wishes could come true, his father would still have been around.
At this time we were both a SJC 6th form. I remember passing all my CXCs and he thought that I always seem to have successes and he seems to be marred with failure. I was too young to understand how much of a deep thinker he was. His observation not a jealous thought, but he felt that society would not think he was somewhat good enough…eventually; I began to see changes in him. He drew back. He did not want to ruin my future he claimed. He began showing signs of depression and he decided he would push me away, flaunted other girls until we eventually broke up. Depression is quite common in young men at this age I have learned.
We kept our distance from each other. We both moved on with life, and then one day I heard he was shot based on an argument he had with someone. I called his mom and Keino and I reconnected as friends only. Did he go back and shoot that person. NO HE DID NOT. Isn’t that what a gang banger would do?
Keino grew up on George Street. He made friends with many of the young men of that area. He became a youth officer because he recognized the neglect in opportunities afforded to them. He reached out to many people who today are probably calling for the death of these young men because they thought they thought he was wasting his time. He was empathetic; he was a loving person and may have been the least materialistic person I know.
In 2001, I moved from Belize to pursue my studies in the U.S. I would call him on his birthday each year or call him when I visited Belize just to see what he was up to. I didn’t call him for the past two years and thought about it. I thought, I should never ignore a birthday because what if it was his last, an unfortunate prediction on my part.
I began hearing disturbing reports from friends and family members that he was having mental issues. I recall he had a confrontation with his stepfather, however when I called him and asked him about it, he seemed quite lucid to me and his perspective made sense. He said, people have determined he has a mental problem so whatever he says or does, he is not taken seriously and they have already determined he is mental. . He spent the time during our conversation reflecting quite a bit. I tried to tell him, he has to look forward and stop focusing so much on a past he cannot change. I felt like the past was in his head stuck on replay.
The last time I spoke to him, it was a very good conversation and it was mostly him reminiscing about high school.
About two years ago, I heard he got arrested for weed and I tried to reach out to him but could not find him. I think he knew I would be giving one of my famous lecture speeches and probably was not up to hearing it. He did tell my family and friends to tell me hello each and every time he saw them, except on Saturday before he died. My brother and another friend both described him as walking around totally out of it and walking around barefooted. Not the image of the gang-banger I imagine.
Keino was not an angel, he paid the price and was repeatedly judged from one big mistake he made as a youth. He experienced a tragic event that unraveled his life. He lost the male figure to direct his path. He got lost.
Belize is a country of no second chances. It almost seems that your fate is sealed if you make a mistake to be forever identified by such a mistake until you become the exact person everyone says you are.
So here I am standing up once again for my friend. I know he would never take another life just knowing the pain he went through when his father’s life was taken. I know he would defend me if the tables were turned. He was a kind, empathetic soul who got lost in mental illness and poor choices of friends.
Unfortunately, to many he is merely a black face who looks like a gangbanger, so who cares he has a teenage daughter reading their hurtful comments. Who cares he has family and friends that love him; who cares that no one has presented any proof he was involved in gang activities, who cares that many of our lost young men work for the same people you would deem respectable?
We in Belize have become a society so gripped in fear of the monsters we help create that we are willing to sign away our liberties, we celebrate rumors of police involvement to eradicate these monsters, gang-bangers, in our short sighted approach to a solution, failing to realize we are creating bigger, more dangerous and more power monsters.
Rest in Peace my friend, God is your only judge and God sees and knows all. Your heart is pure; your spirit left us long before your body did and now sleep with no more pain.