Persons accused of murder should have to prove they didn’t do it.
This was one of the suggestions made last Saturday afternoon at the Bocas debate titled “Crime: Breaking the Cycle” in the Old Fire Station in Port-of-Spain as part of the Bocas Lit Fest. The panellists were retired Army colonel Lyle Alexander, attorney Gregory Delzin, Anglican Bishop Claude Berkeley, and Hugh Wooding Law School lecturer Akiel Khan.
In introducing the debate, chair Arthur Snell, the British High Commissioner to T&T, cited statistics which showed Trinidad had the 14th highest homicide rate in the world, at 35 per 100,000 being murdered. This, he said, was ten times the murder rate in the United States and 30 times the rate in Canada and the United Kingdom.
“It is undeniable that this country faces a serious problem with homicide,” Snell said, adding that “East Port of Spain is as bad as Baghdad.” He also noted that the conviction rate was just five per cent. “So you have to be a very incompetent or very unlucky criminal to get caught,” he said.
Although billed as a debate, there was only one point where the panellists actually disagreed with each other. That was when Khan suggested that persons accused of murder should be assumed guilty until proven innocent. As the audience murmured in astonishment, Snell said he thought that would work in North Korea, while Delzin patted Khan on the shoulder and said, “I fundamentally disavow any knowledge...”, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
But Khan hastened to say that he was only making a suggestion.
Berkeley took the position that the society used to be better, but “in eroding the colonial things, we seem to have lacked the capacity to replace them with solid standards.”
Delzin spoke next, saying, “I think it goes deeper. At base level, it is a lack of moral inspiration.” He identified this lack as common to both parental and political leadership. At the parental level, he identified absence of fathers, saying that “most children are being brought up by women” and women could not teach a boy about being a man, because they didn’t have that experience. (Note: the 2008 Household Budgetary Survey from the Central Statistical Office recorded less than nine per cent of women being single mothers.)
Delzin argued that the society was one in which an individual got respect based on their material possessions. “So disadvantaged people will look for respect elsewhere, and they are finding it in the sale of drugs and in having guns.”
Khan also asserted that children no longer being “corrected” by neighbours and other persons in the community contributed to crime.
Delzin recalled hearing in his youth that many persons blamed Dr Eric Williams for destroying institutions in order to shore up political power. “A strong Police Service, a strong media, threatens a corrupt government.”
Delzin said that ordinary citizens were also to blame for the crime problem. “We elect and re-elect people that we know to be corrupt. And then we complain about corruption after we elect them,” he said. He pointed out that corruption required two parties—the payee and the payer. “We say we have to pay, so we decide that we can’t do without.”
He also raised the issue of truth. “We don’t speak the truth when we analyse, because it means revealing ourselves. We don’t wish to contradict anybody, criticise somebody.”
Berkeley agreed. “There is a lack of truth-telling, and a lack of trust,” he said. “The failure to speak truth is a serious accusation against the church.” He noted that there was a need for greater morality in the society, but added, “You cannot legislate morality. But we have to work harder at moral suasion.”
The NGC Bocas Lit Fest ended yesterday.