Why is it that 25 years ago it only took one police officer to have an effective curfew system, and today with some 30 officers it does not work effectively? Why is it that in the past nobody even questioned the curfew? It was an automatic thing, and today everybody questions its legality, is form and its consequences? Were people more caring 25 years ago? Or was it that they were more naïve?
Here is how the curfew worked back in those days. Every child, boy or girl, rich or poor, related or not to the police or “alcalde” mayor was under the effect of the curfew. No one was exempted. This applied to every child in school. After the age of fourteen, the child was no longer a child for he was officially out of primary school. Since there was no high school back then, after fourteen, the boy was a man and the lady was a full grown woman, so the curfew no longer applied.
At exactly 8 p.m., the police officer in San Pedro Village rang the bell located at Central Park. This told all school children that they were to clear the streets and remain at home. They could be on the streets for a short while after eight p.m. but in the company of their parents or a close relative.
After ringing the bell, the police officer would make his first round from one end of the village to the other, which was from the primary school area to the cemetery which was the village outskirts. That was the entire village. Everything else was bush. And back street never existed. It was total mangrove. If the police officer caught you on the street, he could whip you or he could take you to your home and give your parents a good scolding or ask your parents to whip you. Due to this, children were extremely afraid of police officers. He was a man to be respected by all- young and old. Of course the police officer was a respectable person too.
To tell the truth, parents were grateful to the police that he did his duty so fervently. This ensured that the children came home early and stayed out of trouble. The policeman acted as another guardian of the children. People loved the policeman. Whenever they killed a pig or chickens, they would send meat or chicharon (pork rind) to the officer. Whenever they traveled to Chetumal or Belize City, they would bring gifts for the officer. I firmly believe this was the commencement of the bribery system whereby offerings were made to the police officer. The policeman was everybody's friend. Everyone knew him and he knew everyone by name and everything else. Wouldn’t you want it to be like that again?
Kids generally obeyed the curfew. Occasionally one lost track of time and was out some 20 or 30 minutes late. Since it was only one officer, all you had to do was to wait for him to go back street and you run home via the front street, or vice versa. Some kids jumped several fences to arrive home and escape the whipping of the police officer.
You might be tempted to argue and say that 25 years ago children had nothing to do on the street. You are right. After playing a few street games like hide and seek, and dog and the bone, there was nothing else to do on the streets, so why stay out. Isn't it the same today? What do children have to do in the streets after 8 p.m.? After playing a few games, or going to the ice cream parlor, what business do they have on the street? Perhaps look for trouble. If a kid who is fourteen years of age needs to be out later, isn't it wise if he is with his parents? So who do you think has the fault if curfews do not work today? The police or the parents? I am tempted to say the parents. They have the final say. I know of children, 14 and 15 years of age who were out for the Christmas vacations until three in the morning roaming beaches and other places. What were they doing? You can bet it was nothing good. Did parents want the police to pick them up and bring them home? Or did parents think that the child had a need to be out alone on the street at 3 a.m.? Do parents want the police to work the curfew? Then when the child gets into serious problems, parents start crying and lamenting. Too late. They should learn from the curfews of 25 years ago.
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist