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Vaneisa: When does evil begin? The making and breaking of Joel Balcon

The revelation that Joel Balcon had been charged with 70 criminal counts remains a scandalous indictment of this country. But where in the system is the blame to fall? 

In the Express of 4 February, Anna Ramdass reported an interview with an unidentified attorney who said he had previously represented the man. Thirty matters, he said, were dismissed because ‘the police were never ready and never presented the witnesses’, said the article.

Photo: Alleged rapist Joel Balcon, aka Devon Charles.

Ramdass wrote that the attorney said he was not given bail on all 70 charges, but that the court did so when ‘about 35 [of the matters] against him were dismissed between 2018 and 2020’. And she quotes him as saying: ‘A large portion of the other matters we don’t even know if they exist because they are on a criminal record sheet but nobody is turning up to prosecute them.’

When Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith was contacted about this, he denied that the police were at fault, and blamed it on a flawed criminal justice system.

“In an investigation, sometimes it is beyond the control of the police when we have to wait sometimes for several months, if not a few years, for ballistic testing, for DNA testing results,” said Griffith, “or for witnesses who are reluctant to give information or they cannot be found. So that is beyond the control of the police.

“So when persons continue to rape, to kidnap, to rob, to stab, to shoot, they know there is no deterrent anymore. There are no consequences because there are very well-versed, trained, vociferous attorneys that will speak loud and try to get them out on bail so they will go back out on the streets and continue their crimes yet again.”

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.

Naturally, the criminal justice system has put forward its defence, and again, fingers are being pointed everywhere, instead of everyone coming together to find solutions. And while all of this is going on, Balcon died in police custody. According to a report by Alexander Bruzual on 11 February, the autopsy revealed that he died from blunt force trauma. 

‘His injuries included brain fractures, several broken ribs, bleeding from his internal organs, burn marks to his back [possibly from a Taser], contusion to the right eye, bleeding to the brain and damage to the legs and shoulders,’ wrote Bruzual.

Just as the murder of Andrea Bharatt has disturbed the public psyche, all of the above should jolt us with equal force. People have expressed gratification at the deaths—Andrew Morris met a violent end himself in police custody—for the death and it seems that the most widespread emotion is a grim satisfaction that they too suffered.

Evil, is the word most commonly invoked to describe these people. They are wicked and evil, we say, as we sit self-righteously in judgement.

Photo: Andrea Bharatt, 23, went missing on 29 January 2021. Her body was found in the Heights of Aripo on 4 February 2021.

This matter of 70 criminal charges turns us instinctively towards blaming public systems; but what about private ones, like homes? What would have made Balcon turn so fully to this life of crime? 

His portfolio was not robberies alone; violence and anger seemed to be the driving force. Where did that come from? Do we believe that he was born an evil person? Do we believe that anyone is born an evil person? What made his world coalesce into a seething mass of hatred and rage?

Somewhere along his life, probably deep inside his childhood, something pulverised large chunks of what we might call his goodness, out of him.

In all the time that he kept being brought before the courts for these 70 crimes, was there nothing to raise an alarm, nothing to suggest to anyone present or presiding, that this person should be given a psychiatric evaluation? It doesn’t matter whether the police were unready or absent; wouldn’t his record sheet figures alone trigger some concern?

We live in a place that was taught by rote. Repeat after me; regurgitate only what you have read in the text; you will be punished if you colour outside the lines.

Photo: A woman protests for change in the wake of the death of Andrea Bharatt.

Far too many important spaces are occupied by pomposity and a lack of critical thinking. We do not pay enough attention to the obvious because that is not our jobs. 

Balcon and others like him are shuffled around in a system that does not notice anything coloured outside the lines. And so, when the cracks are exposed, there is nothing to do but pass around the chalice of blame.

It happens inside the system and it happens out here on our streets. It is easy to assuage our consciences by looking far outwards and pointing fingers without interrogating ourselves about our personal roles.

It comes back to the baying for blood that seems the most prevalent response to the dramas of 2021 so far. What truly does it bring us? Savage pleasure? 

According to a report, the private autopsy performed on Bharatt, showed she ‘suffered blunt-force trauma to her head, her skull fractured and there was internal haemorrhaging’.

Look at the details of Balcon’s autopsy, read Denyse Renne’s report in the Sunday Express. It is an unbearable amount of violence; coming from within our society. What is its root?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago continues to struggle with violent crime.

My intention had been to write about family life and the profound effect it has on adulthood. Maybe I did, but I will return to it more directly soon.

About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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