Targeted residents upset after police launch anti-loitering operation on La Isla Bonita
Friday, July 19th, 2013
At least four male residents of Ambergris Caye are speaking up against The San Pedro Police Department, claiming that their constitutional rights have been violated. According to the men, they are just four of many more that have become a target by police. They are claiming that the police have detained them several times in less than a week,then released without charges,in an attempt to “frustrate” them until they leave the island.The police however,are standing their grounds stating that the operation is as a result of mounting complaints that tourists are being accosted (by the individuals) and that the beach is being used for peddling drugs.
The victims claim that the agenda of the police is being perpetuated by a few influential ‘racist” business people. In an interview with The San Pedro Sun, two frustrated residents,Holando“Blackhenoh” Smith and Leonel Polonio, spoke at length explaining their frustration about the ongoing operation. According to the two, they have been targeted because they are “black” and because they are seen talking to tourists. They claim that because they are seen speaking to tourist a few malicious people take that they are “offering” drugs to tourists. “I don’t like the injustice that they are doing against me. I personally think the San Pedro Town Council is upholding it. Just because I am black and I am on the street and at park selling my music to tourists, they believe I am selling drugs and that I am harassing tourists. They are giving a me a drug-dealer name which I personally don’t like because I have never sold any drugs to any tourist. I agree I smoke my marijuana but I don’t sell drugs. I don’t deal with selling coke and other drugs. They are dealing with my rights and I want everyone to know that they are violating my rights,” explained Blackhenoh, a local artist on Ambergris Caye. Blackhenoh hsaid that he was illegally detained for six days over the past week without any justifiable reason.
“They told me that they want to clean the beach and move ‘us black people’ from off the island. I can personally tell them that they can check their records. I have never been arrested for stealing or drugs trafficking. I survive by playing music – I do drumming and singing at the park and that is what I do to get money to feed my kids. I want them to bring their evidence and show that I sell drugs. They want to unjustly incarcerate and threaten my life then I want them to know that when they do that, they are denying my two-month old child the opportunity to eat. They are pushing me to do things I don’t want to do and they are frustrating me,” protested Polonio.
But according to Officer in Charge of the San Pedro Police Formation Superintendent of Police Luis Castellaños, the reality of the situation is different. There are some serious concerns being brought up, in regards to a few males on the island who are harassingtourists, peddling drugs and basically accosting tourists on the beach. “The tourists are complaining to the different establishments that these people along the beach are harassing them. The tourists are saying that they are being offered drugs and are even accosted by a few of them. The complaints are just too much. This is a tourism destination and this cannot be allowed. The tourism police unit is conducting the operation as a deterrentto having people loitering on the beach,” explained Castellaños. The first step the police took was to trim the tree at the church park where people are known to loiter around.Superintendent Castellaños said that some of the people peddling drugs on the beach have even gone to a disturbing newlevel. “I have seen a video that showshow some tourists are taken into the church and sold drugs by some of these very people lingering on the beach. This is the level to which some of these guys have gone to, and it is unacceptable,” stated Castellaños.
Moreover, Castellaños explained that the complaints from food vendors, artisans and business community are “simply too much.” According to police, they will not be deterred from conducting their operation to “clean up the beach” from loiterers because the island’s “bread and butter” is the tourism industry.
John Ortiz also visited The San Pedro Sun office making a similar accusation claiming that he was walking on Barrier Reef Drive when he was suddenly detained without any reason and thrown into jail. Ortiz’s account was similar to another man’s tale, claiming he shared cell block with six others for the weekend after he was “unlawfully” detained. Derrick Plonkett claimed that he was denied his right to place a call after he was escorted in handcuffs without explanation. He also said that he was released 48 hours later without charges. According to the four individuals, who spoke to The San Pedro Sun, the arresting officers told them that their arrests were worth “$50.00 per head,” indicating that they are being paid to make arrest without any reason.
As to the allegation made about monies collected for each arrest made, Castellaños said it is simply not true. “We told the business community that we can address the matter but our expenses to feed these people when detained would go up. The business community, having tired of the complaints, is willing to assist with helping to offset these expenses.” The police strongly denied targeting a particular race. “It is not about being black. It is about harassing the tourists, selling drugs and loitering on the beach.”
The Mayor of San Pedro Town Daniel Guerrero told The San Pedro Sun that he was “unaware” about the operation. The police maintained that they will not stop their operations until the loitering on the beach and other public areas are discontinued.
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