Independent senator and psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh says he has been a victim of crime five times. He said he will strongly support any policy or legislation to enact stand your ground defence by citizens.
There has been comment and discussions ever since Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar promised to introduce legislation for stand your ground if the UNC wins the next general election.
While many support it, at least two attorneys have spoken out against it.
On Friday, attorney Martin George called on Persad-Bissessar to address concerns on her proposed stand your ground legislation and ensure it was not tainted by racial bias.
A Friday article quoted George as saying without proper understanding and careful consideration, the implementation of stand your ground laws could create more problems than solutions, exacerbating existing societal issues.
Contacted on Sunday, Dr Deyalsingh said he too strongly supports its use and wonders if the Opposition and its leader actually got the idea from a column he wrote for a newspaper in 2021. He called for the use of the Castle Doctrine which states people have the right to use reasonable and even deadly force to protect themselves against intruders in their homes.
Stand your ground law goes beyond the common-law Castle Doctrine in that it gives someone, who believes their life is in danger, the right to use force, including deadly force, in self-defence and removes the duty to retreat in public spaces.
Government has rejected calls for stand your ground legislation to fight crimes especially home invasions, with the Prime Minister saying it could allow some people who hate others to use it for legal murder.
The law is controversial particularly in the US and was a major factor in the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. In April, there was also debate about it in the US after two people who mistakenly approached homes, were shot.
GO FOR IT
“In my article, I strongly recommended Government consider stand your ground legislation. Also as a senator, I made the comments, based on our crime situation now; it is not to say it is a regular situation, we are up to sixth in crime, it is a situation where you have to have drastic measures to deal with what is happening,” Deyalsingh said.
In the senate, Deyalsingh said citizens should be given the chance to defend themselves in their home or property and Government should also re-examine death penalty legislation.
He said his past comments in the senate showed a support for citizens having the right to defend themselves with correct checks and balances.
Asked if he was concerned about people using the proposed law or policy to attack other groups based on race or sexual orientation, Deyalsingh said he was more concerned about people invading his property and putting his family and life at risk.
“There is a greater risk of us being damaged from criminals entering into our property,” he said.
Deyalsingh added that it was time the pendulum swung back into the hands of law-abiding citizens. He said there may be a few individuals who may abuse it but statistics showed that even people in rural areas and the elderly are being preyed on and in their homes.
Deyalsingh said if eight men were coming into his home, race, religion or colour would not matter. He said TT desperately needs stand your ground laws given the state it has reached in terms of crime.
“It is really to send a message to the criminals, you come into my home, I will face you with fire. You come into my home to damage me and my family; I will be able to stand up to you.
“It is time criminals learn because they do not respect the police or the judicial system. It is time for them to learn to respect people who can stand up for themselves,” he said.
TT'S IMAGE MAY
However, attorney Criston J. Williams said the the issue goes much deeper than this and could also affect TT’s international image.
He spoke on the matter citing an August 1 Foreign Policy article titled: Trinidad’s Violence Blunts Its Promise. Taiwan-based journalist Hilton Yip wrote the article.
The journalist lived in TT and Yip’s father was murdered by thieves at his grocery in 2021.
In that article, Yip spoke to crime, gang-violence in the country, corruption and said it may worsen with TT facing declining oil and gas revenues.
“Given that its economic prosperity is not guaranteed to last, the country needs to curb its violent crime crisis. For now, that is clearly not happening. One of the developing world’s most fascinating countries continues to be shackled by its own inability to protect its citizens.”
Attorney Williams said all of his comments are being based on Yip's article.
“The country’s wealth is stolen or wasted as a result of corruption or the position of political leaders on both side of the fence…,” Williams said.
He added that innocent lives will be lost with stand your ground laws and this would be a stain on TT.
Quoting the worldpopulationreview.com statistic of TT having the sixth highest crime rate and with it being quoted in the Yip article, Williams said countries might seek to secure their ambassadors, especially when compared to countries like Haiti or Mexico.
Williams added he would not be surprised if he saw ambassadors riding around in bulletproof vehicles as it was being said that gang violence is on the rise.
He also said the possible legislation could have international repercussions if the son, spouse, family member or loved one of foreign diplomats were hurt.
“Somebody might want to stand their ground, somebody might want to shoot and reload and someone might be accused of being blunt, incapable of solving domestic crime, according to what Foreign Policy says about this current administration,” he said.
This could also hurt prospective foreign businesses interested in coming to TT, when they listened to debates by politicians in TT. He cited recent comments by both Persad-Bissessar and the Prime Minister.
He said some of those people might ask, “What kind of society is this? That is what the politicians are saying? That is what they are teaching the young children?”
Williams said he wished for a diplomatic and sensitive approach to the serious topic of crime whereby international bodies would not say, “What kind of politicians exist in TT?” A mature conversation is needed on the matter, he added.