Last weekend was bloody, another bloody weekend, with many murders, fatal traffic accidents, and serious injuries, a number of them caused by individuals who feel they have the right to be violent or the right to speed. These incidents carry a cost that goes beyond the terrible violation of the gift of life, the heartbreak of losing loved ones, the pain and long recovery from injuries, and the agony of permanent disabilities. They are a serious blow to the economy of our developing country because the demographic most impacted in these incidents is our young Belizeans in their productive years.
Road accidents, some caused by selfish individuals, and murderous behavior by violent individuals, rocked our nation again, and collectively we must put the foot down, insist that individuals consider the rights of all. Naturally, it is within individuals to do the things that make them happy, but we must not lose sight of what happens when our desire to please ourselves infringes on others. Killing or causing injury to a Belizean is a serious assault on the nation, and every available tool we have must be employed to impress on us—when we have little concern for the whole, or are ignorant—the full cost of our actions.
There are a number of people in our country who have earned the description, notorious, after being in a number of scrapes with the law. The frightening activities some have been involved in that have been exposed actually pale beside some horrific accusations against them of actions that have not come to light. How these notorious individuals elude the long arm of the law, there’s nothing exciting or liberating by it. Simply, they take advantage of a system that is consumed with protecting the rights of the individual, no matter the cost.
It’s a good wager that a poll in Belize would show that the majority of Belizeans believe that the increased vigilance to protect the rights of individuals has taken us down the road paved with good intentions that leads to damnation. Protecting the rights of individuals is a good thing, enshrined in our Constitution, but it comes with a cost, and it might be that in respect to the protection of the rights of Belizeans accused of murder, the world’s worst crime, or reckless behavior, the cost is too high for our developing nation.
Before the rights of the individual became more important than the wellbeing of the state, serial criminals could not exist, because before someone became notorious they would have been reeled in and placed in the main corrective institution. That time was when we were under colonial rule, before we became an independent country. The story goes that our colonial rulers didn’t care for us, and that is why they applied the iron hand to individuals accused of violent crimes. And it just might be so, that they didn’t love us. But on this matter we do have to ask, as celebrated entertainer Tina Turner did, what love has to do with it. Justice is more important in the development of a nation.
On the matter of violent crimes, no one would be surprised if we have had a few cases of wrongful incarceration, and maybe, sadly, horrifically, a few Belizeans were unjustifiably hung for murder. Fortunately, no one in Belize would go to the gallows today if they were wrongly convicted for murder because we no longer carry out the death penalty. Indeed, in murder cases the only people who have to fear death are the witnesses to the crime. Because justice has gone from our land, the murderous and the predatory have an open field to spread terror.
In the US, the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, wrongful incarceration has led to the development of a new and very lucrative branch of law. Frequently we hear of a wrongly jailed person in that country walking away with gobs of cash after their murder conviction was overturned. It should not be lost that as the law erred in putting some people behind bars, quite likely it errs in setting some people free. In most of the instances in which those convictions we read about in the US were overturned, the evidence that clinched freedom was based on DNA. While DNA is highly accurate, almost foolproof, the process is handled by humans, and in the same way they messed up in the past, in favor of the state, sometimes they mess up now, in favor of the individual.
Righting wrongful incarceration is a huge business in the US for lawyers. Christina Carrega, in a 2021 CNN story, said that more than 2,800 people in the US had been proven to have been wrongly convicted. Brian Boyer, of Injury and Accident Lawyers, said in a story published on the website injuryfirm.vegas that in these cases lawyers are paid on a contingency fee basis, meaning if they don’t win the case they get no financial compensation. Victory means these lawyers can jet or sail around the world, in their recently bought plane or yacht. Boyer said that in the state of Nevada the contingency fee ranges between 33% and 40%, after costs!
Some Belizeans cheer every vindication in the US courts because the wrongly incarcerated persons, at the least the ones we see on their news stations, invariably they are black. It is/was more likely for a black person to be wrongly convicted in the US because they were/are not a very just society. Wendy Sawyer, in a 2020 report on racial disparities in mass incarceration in the US, which was published by Prison Policy Initiative, said that in 2018, 592 of every 100,000 Blacks were incarcerated; 401 of every 100,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives were incarcerated; 187 of every 100,000 White, non-Hispanics were incarcerated; and 182 of every 100,000 Hispanics were incarcerated.
It is indeed a terrible thing to jail an innocent person, and it is good that lawyers pursue these cases to correct them. This makes the American system more just. That only one of two murders is solved in the US today probably has nothing to do with their authorities fearing to unjustly incarcerate anyone because of the large payout, millions of dollars, when the conviction is corrected. All reports from the US are that they pursue these cases with the same vigor they did in the past. That’s because they know that failing to deliver justice for crime will lead to chaos and that in such a climate there is little prosperity.
Belize is not doing enough to protect her productive citizens. We are afraid to bring down the hammer on speeding. We are terrified of wrongfully incarcerating anyone, when our terror properly should be for the bitter harvest from allowing guilty individuals to run loose. We can, must allow for aggressive research into cases where there is a possibility that the state erred in its delivery of justice. But we cannot allow that type of research to become another lucrative business for the legal field, a big money game for some, because our country can’t afford it.
Is there a person in our country who, in the face of productive Belizeans dying or becoming maimed at incredible rates because of violence and traffic accidents, thinks that individual rights should continue trumping the national good? Last weekend was extremely bloody.