THERE’S NEVER a dull moment when the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) debate team clashes with rival Golden Grove Remand Prison (Remand). In second place behind Women’s Prison in the quarterfinal round, MSP promised surprises, which they delivered on October 8 on their home turf as they argued the most controversial topic to date: Do extrajudicial killings exist in Trinidad and Tobago?
The judges and audience, which consisted of MSP inmates, Prison Commissioner Gerard Wilson and the UN peace and development adviser for the Caribbean Dr Kehinde Bolaji, were noticeably impressed.
Remand’s opener Leondro Guerra constructed compelling support for extrajudicial killings, citing Amnesty International and local news stories, which included those about former police commissioner Randolph Burroughs. “We deem such killings normal,” he warned.
MSP’s well guarded secret surprise proved to be a dramatic shake-up in its lineup. Researcher Ryan Ramoutar now proved to be a smooth, convincing opener, debunking Guerra’s claims by blaming mass media hysteria, fictional novels and major misconceptions about illegal killings and extrajudicial killings as the real culprit.
He dismissed extrajudicial killings as occurrences in other countries, saying there is no evidence for them here. For dramatic effect he produced an anecdote about his absent teammate, police officer/inmate Khamraj Sahadeo, who once had to reassure his son that the police are “the good guys.” MSP debaters are masters at evoking heart-wrenching anecdotes. Ramoutar’s opening earned him a hearty, congratulatory hug from teammate Kester Benjamin, who fielded questions like cricket balls from Remand’s Jaylon Robinson instead of his usual closing spot.
Robinson’s noble attempt to entrap Benjamin by building an argument that substantiated “rumours” of extrajudicial killings fell short sometimes when Benjamin worked dramatic magic into his confident answers. Benjamin refused to be intimidated.
Then, MSP’s Ishmael Khan peppered Remand’s David Khan with questions. Ishmael Khan exuded astute confidence, poise and determination. David Khan could not counter the questions with continuous forceful responses.
Remand’s surprise was a rebuttal by team captain Terrence Morris, who filled in for Kenyatta King. Despite his noble attempt, Morris’s rebuttal advanced his team’s argument more than it poked holes in the opponent’s argument.
MSP’s Prem Bhadree gave his best performance ever, wooing the judges with a smooth style, which needs to avoid accusations like “just say you have produced no evidence.”
The final arguments proved to be showstoppers on both sides. Remand’s powerful, charismatic Marlon Lee offered a heart-wrenching personal anecdote about how he lost his first child and unborn grandchild when police ambushed the car his daughter was in because the driver was targeted by police.
MSP’s Arnold Ramlogan, usually his team’s opener, quoted Trinidadian criminologist Renee Cummings in his closing arguments to prove how people confuse illegal killings with extrajudicial killings.
He offered an emotional testimonial about how, at 20, he shot and killed a police officer. “I have to live with that every day, and if he had killed me, everyone would have claimed, ‘he killed an innocent person,’” Ramlogan said in an attempt to show how people misconstrue facts. He claimed Remand offered nothing but speculation in their arguments.
Once again MSP’s dramatic, emotional appeal outweighed even its most cogent arguments. They hook spectators with emotional bait and when they do deliver an important fact, it has the effect of an arrow. On that day, MSP left listeners with the point that if TT did not kill insurgents during the 1990 coup, the country would not engage in extrajudicial killings.
On that day, MSP never allowed its exuberant confidence to spill into cockiness. Carefully crafted arguments reflected Sahadeo’s experience, influence and tone. MSP’s debaters are undisputed masters of structure.
But for me, Ako Patrick proved to be the hero of that day. Serving as a co-researcher with opener Ramoutar, Patrick apologised for the aggressive questioning and bullying at the Carrera debate. Smiling, he said, “I took the judges’ comments and yours to heart. I’m working on my tone, and I will be back stronger than ever.”
Judge David Muhammed praised the debate, but rightfully pulled up MSP for an “almost offensive” argument that attributed WPC Bernadette James’s death in 1987 to a “stray bullet” during a police training exercise held after she allegedly stumbled on a politician in a room with drugs in the airport. Author/broadcaster Muhammed said he had never once read that explanation for her death.
The final score, MSP 735 and Remand 635, placed MSP in first place for the day. But a shocking showstopper between Port of Spain Prison and Women’s Prison would take place the following day on October 9.