Carbon was found dead last week

The circumstance of Andy Carbon’s killing was chilling. It was a heinous crime; brutal, unfeeling and particularly despicable. It was odious, loathsome and utterly reprehensible. Nobody, but nobody should die that way. Not Andy, not anybody. Law enforcement did well to have already apprehended the perpetrator. Back of the head smashed in with one of the concrete weights used to secure vending umbrellas. What a way to die. What a waste of a life. Or is it? Can we transform a negative into a positive?

Primarily, Andy was a paro. One of the dozens who find their way to Roseau and join the ranks of vagrants. Lanky and gangling, Andy presented a picture of perpetual apprehension, muddled fright, constant fear, and insatiable hunger. He always seemed to be on the verge of running off in flight.

He was arguably the least aggressive of the paros. He stank to high heaven and his states of undress were indecently imaginative. Chasing Andy out of business places was a matter of course. His practice of public and personal hygiene was non-existent.

Of late, he had been in the public eye. He had been struck by a hit and run driver, burnt, and beaten several times. In fact, there had been public outcry in his favour when his vulnerability was exploited once or twice too many. There had also been cries of outrage against him when he defecated in public places.

Andy, therefore, in some ways, was the ultimate in our paro population. There are aspects of his death, however, which should be noted, since we are a civilized society, and are therefore impacted by Mahatma Gandhi’s observation that: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Andy was a weak member.

One of the aspects influencing his death was that he slept outside. He was thus all that more accessible to his assailant. The provision of housing along well-planned lines, for our vagrant population, is, therefore, a logical consideration that should be pushed to its logical conclusion. Housing: in the sense of getting them off the streets in a well-planned manner.

That is how the circumstance of Andy’s death can be transformed into a positive. His death brings up again the conversation of housing for the Andys of our society. It drives the “get the vagrants off the street” narrative to the extent that it is heard in all corners of society. All energies therefore, tending towards the unbridled venting of frustration, blaming the system, lashing out at the Government, or tongue-lashing his family can now be channeled towards removing the remaining Andys from the streets in a well-planned manner.

As it stands, substance abuse drives vagrancy. With the drug problem the realty that it is, an ideal situation would be the establishment of a results-oriented residential rehabilitation programme with an accompanying but separate half-way house component to ease reintegration into society. A drop-in centre with prevention its thrust, that would address the short to immediate term issues of addicts and their families, would complete the overall rehabilitation programme.

As it also stands, that kind of establishment does not spring up at the snap of a finger, and something other than what is being done now, must be done in the short to immediate term to change the dynamic that has currently resulted in four of those deaths this year. The Ministry of Health is charged with taking the lead in dealing with the vagrancy problem. Let the energies generated by this the Andy incident push the Ministry and its partners towards bringing to fruition their plans to remove the vagrants from the streets in a well-planned manner.

Those energies generated by Andy’s death can be life for others. There are those, regardless of what he was, who would shed a tear for Andy, or would say a prayer for him because they, in their sensitivity, (maybe derived from adversity,) could sense the fear, the askance, the wanting to trust and afraid to do so, that emanated from the young man.

They could see beyond the dirt, beyond the stench and see the scared youngster within with nobody for him. Every hand against him; everybody trying to outdo the other in kicking him, in hitting him, in shouting at him. Sick in mind, and sick in body; disoriented, buffeted by there, pushed by there, pulled by there, the sun hot on him, the rain wet on him, their laughter taunting and demoralizing him. Good Lord God! That was the lonely, torturous, pathetic and pitiful existence of a mother’s son.

One could say that Andy’s death was predictable. Living the way he did, did not make him a prime candidate for the centenarians’ list. So too, the deaths of many a vagrant can be predicted. Predictions like prophecies are made to guide us away from making them come true. Let us then now commit to ensuring that there are no more deaths like Andy’s by housing our vagrants in a well-planned manner. Andy’s death, therefore, gives us impetus. “There is a tide in the affairs of men,” Shakespeare tells us, “Which taken at its flood leads to fortune.” Let us then seize that impetus.

Society does not want the Andys of the world, yet they are products of society. Notwithstanding that they are the very dregs of the social order, they afford us opportunities to give selflessly. They evoke noble sentiments from our inner selves and help us bring to actualization the Matthew 25:40 teaching: “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

There is merit in the lives of the Andys of this world, but like good gold we must mine deeply and diligently to experience it. Those vulnerable lives trigger in us feelings to work towards their well-being; towards the well-being of all humanity. This, in turn, develops in us wisdom, counsel, understanding, courage, compassion, and those other characteristics necessary in us as individuals to make Roseau and the world a better place.

To the extent that we can, in a carefully well-planned manner, provide housing for our remaining Andys, is the extent to which we will have transformed a decidedly negative act into a positive outcome. It would probably be right apt to name that outcome, the Andy Carbon Home for Vulnerable Persons.

J.M. Bonti Liverpool is Chief Executive Officer of WISDOM TO KNOW Inc, a ten-year-old substance abuse treatment programme that has clients in the vagrant population.