ON TUESDAY, a Beetham Gardens resident was fined $400 by Magistrate Sanara Toon-McQuilkin for the assault of Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds. While the law must apply equally to all citizens regardless of their office, the gravity of this offence – which saw a sitting member of the House of Representatives threatened, endangered and frustrated in the execution of his duties – was not reflected in the penalty. Still, a clear message was sent and we are relieved this matter was speedily prosecuted and came to a definitive conclusion.
The Summary Offences Act sets out penalties. Section 4 imposes a $400 fine for assault. Section 49 imposes a $200 fine for the use of obscene language. The Beetham Gardens resident was charged with both and fined $300 for assault and $100 for obscene language, totalling $400.
The penalty imposed perhaps reflects the fact that the perpetrator, Richard “Snake” Marcelle, pleaded guilty. In so doing he did not waste the court’s time. A trial would have been somewhat redundant, coming in a situation in which the incident was widely captured and circulated on social media, leaving little doubt as to what occurred on August 14.
On that day, Hinds visited Beetham Gardens after two days of flooding and was doused with muddy water as he toured the area with Councillor Akil Audain. He and Audain were then chased out. The incident was universally condemned. Hinds reported it to the police the next day.
In pleading for his client, lawyer Richard Clarke-Wills said Marcelle attacked Hinds out of frustration over alleged unfulfilled promises the MP made to residents. The attorney said his client intended to kick the water at Hinds but did not think it would actually make contact. The lawyer also said Marcelle did not think splashing Hinds with water would lead to his being charged with a criminal offence.
Yet there can be no excuse for what happened. In a democracy, if individuals are dissatisfied with their elected representatives they may communicate such to them by visiting their constituency office or writing a letter or Facebook post or even making a simple phone call. Ultimately, constituents can express their verdict in the ballot box. Assault and obscenity are unacceptable courses of action, more so given the many alternatives.
Hinds is to be lauded for having the courage to take the matter to the police. If the perpetrator honestly did not expect he would have been subject to a criminal charge, that itself is a sign of the kind of wrong thinking which prevails in our society. Not enough people realise that all actions, including reckless ones, have serious consequences.
While there is room for amendment of the penalties under the Act, we welcome the conclusion of this matter. It sends an important and clear signal that there is no excuse for the kind of action that was taken.