Tonight, for the first time in decades, certain areas of Southside Belize City are under a state of emergency.
Two large areas have been designated as "public emergency zones." These are the turf of the George Street and Banak Street gangs. Their recent round of warfare resulted in the weekend's spate of killings in the city. And now, the state has responded decisively - with an unprecedented move - basically to declare the warzones special areas where police have special powers to arrest and detain without charges.

It's a huge and historic event - and today the acting Commissioner Chester Williams led a press conference to explain why it has been necessitated:

Jules Vasquez reporting:
This morning police and BDF swarmed the areas in and around George Street. We saw masked BDF soldiers guarding the corners, machine guns at the ready. And while we've seen that before, the sight of these jungle ready soldiers in masks is something new, and that menacing appearance told everyone on the streets that today was not business as usual. The men you see in the back of the truck are two of about 100 detained between 3:00 am and 10:00 am as a result of a period of intense house to house searches and arrests in this neighborhood. Appearing today in operational camouflage, the acting commissioner made it clear that the time for dialogue with gangs is done!

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"We cannot continue to dialogue with people who don't want to listen."

And those who don't want to listen will now feel, apparently.

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"It is now necessary for us to move to another level where we can let those persons who are adamant about creating havoc in our society understand that the police is here to do a job and that job will be done at any cost to ensure the safety and security of our law abiding citizens."

And the cost in this case may be steep. These two areas on the Southside have been put under a state of emergency. In Statutory Instrument #49 signed yesterday, a proclamation declaring a state of public emergency in the Southside of Belize has designated these areas as "Public Emergency Zones." And while they may be fairly large, Acting Compol Williams says it's really all about two gangs.

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"Banak area and the George Street area are the two areas of concern at this time. And so, those are the two areas that are captured in the proclamation of a state of emergency on South Side. While yes, the proclamation does give the police and other law enforcement agencies additional powers to be able to go in and arrest the situation, we do not intend to abuse those powers bestowed upon us by the proclamation. We do not want the public to believe that, oh because we have a state of emergency, the ordinary lives of people will be disrupted by the state of emergencies in those areas; it will not. The stores in those areas will be left to remain open as normal."

But, for the one hundred men detained, an estimated 75 of them will not know life as normal for a while.

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"What we intend to do is that in the first instance we intend to incarcerate these individuals for one month. If at the expiration of that one month period they have shown no signs of improvement or that they want to behave themselves then we intend to take it further. Now, some might say that we are really being heavy handed but truth of the matter is, and I'm sure you all will agree, that we have also talked enough with them and we need to be able to make them understand that the time for talking is done."

"We are hoping that it is just not a situation where a drag net will be placed, man and man will end up being locked up or detained, some may be charged and then when they actually get out you will find that they are more aggressive towards the system and by extension the citizenry."

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"Well, that is a matter for them, you know. Like I am saying, this should be taken as a lesson for them. At the end of the day, you can't fight the state."

And today, the full weight of the state, the legislature, the executive and the police came down on the gang subculture, engendering the implicit threat that they are willing to extend it.

Hon. John Saldivar- Minister of National Security
"If we should wish to have an extension of this 30 day period, we will have to take the matter to do the House of Representatives. And I, as minister, do intend to do so if the circumstances do so warrant."

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"Right now this operation is focused in Belize City. And, I will sound the warning, if the other groups decided that they want to create problems, then they will find themselves in the same situation as George Street and the Banak area."

It's a lot of security, personnel and resources, and much of it in the name of a safe September.

COL. Geoge Lovell- (RET'D.) CEO, Ministry of National Security "We believe that with us going into our festive season - 10th and 21st - and the fact that the type of the incidents that we have seen over the last week or so, it is absolutely necessary for us to arrest the situation and to do so before it gets out of control and we have to go back to that state where we were in March of this year.

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"The activities of these two groups have many Belizeans who are law abiding who want to be out enjoying our history; being in fear of even wanting to come out of their home- that is unacceptable."

And in a sharp change of tone, a man who has long championed the role of community policing and what might be called the Mano suave approach says they must definitively disrupt the gang M.O. - using the Mano duro.

DCP Chester Williams- Acting Commissioner
"These gang members are extorting business people out there and it is really and truly getting out of control. One of them told me plain and straight, 'I live out of extortion.' Really? That can't happen."