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Sunday, November 17, 2002

Tim Hector

And the Dying is Hard

Dr. Lester CN Simon

There are some things in life you do not forget: Where you were when you heard that President Kennedy was shot; watching the television and seeing Nelson Mandela waking to freedom; and hearing that Tim Hector was dead.

My thoughts flashed back to 1963 and my first encounter with the great man. I remember sitting in the second to last row, on the right side, in first form, at the Antigua Grammar School. Sounding like a bassoon, Mr. Hector had invaded, captured and laid waste the class with a poem, The Creation, by James Weldon Johnson. The remarkable thing about the poem was the first line, “ And God stepped out on space.” I had never heard that construction before, “stepped out on space.” Not just “stepped out”, or “stepped out in space”; but “stepped out on space.”

Only God can do that, and for that entire class, Mr. Hector was like a messenger from God, as he stepped all over on the space of classroom. When he told us that the poem was written by a black man, I thought that if a black man could write that, then I could do absolutely anything. It was as if I too had stepped out on life. This was the real Hector to me, the son of King Priam of Troy, commander of the Trojan army, the arch nemesis of Achilles and the emissary of Zeus to us.

Now, Tim had finally stepped out. Stepping out: The sort of remark you make when you leave home to jot round the corner and expect to return in a little while. But the warning, amber lights do not always work. Sometimes you step straight from green to red to dead.

In the days leading up to Tim’s death, I was in Jamaica for our son’s graduation and for a workshop and conference of Forensic Pathology. It was a stalk contrast between the joy of graduation and the sadness of crime in Jamaica. So I was heartened to discover a book in our daughter’s flat written by Jamaican criminologist, Dr. Bernard Headley called, “The Jamaican Crime Scene”. At last someone was making sense out of the seemingly senseless killings in Jamaica. Unbeknownst to me, I returned to Antigua the very night Tim was not going “gently into that good night”, but was raging, raging “against the dying of the light”.

Antiguans don’t commit that sort of crime! When the last comptroller of Customs was brutally killed in a botched robbery, it was said that that sort of crime was alien to Antigua and Barbuda and that the perpetrators were surely the dregs of Jamaica and such natural born criminals (an oxymoron). Surprise, surprise! We too have a bitch’s brew from which such dregs are easily drawn. No wonder the scene of the multiple murders of some English tourists aboard the Computer Challenger yacht in Barbuda was so familiar to the eye. Blood has an inquisitive and nasty, vulgar way of soiling everything, every time, everywhere.

In Forensic Pathology, you learn about the cause of death and the manner of death. The cause of death is determined by the pathologist and it may be gunshot wound to the head. The manner of death is the legal determination of the circumstances of death and explains how the cause of death came about. Manners of death include natural, accident, suicide, homicide and undetermined. Yet, at some point you come to realize that there is but one death; that someone stepped out. And that dying is always hard for someone, somewhere.

Dr. Bernard talks about the societal phenomena of crime and violence in Jamaica; a relationship between crime and violence and social, political, economic and cultural objective features. Some Antiguans will continue to believe that “Jamaican crimes” cannot happen in Antigua and Barbuda. We must not just look at numbers; we must regard the root causes and the density of crime, or the numbers of crime per population. The absurdity of not regarding the density of crime is dazzlingly brought home when you find yourself basking in the safety of a low suicide rate in a country with a population of one!

Dr. Bernard contrasts individualised crimes to street or conventional crimes. Individualised crimes are of two types. One type is impersonal and it is perpetuated by someone who “derives some warped satisfaction from the act of violence.” There persons are psychopath and they are likely to kill any vulnerable person. The other type of individualized crime is directly personal and intimate. “Satisfaction comes from meting out aggression towards a specific person”; e.g. domestic violence. Dr. Bernard noted that for all acts of individualized crimes, their occurrence, however frequent, upsetting, and distasteful, signals no real danger or coming apart at the seams in the social contract”.

In contract, writes Dr, Bernard, “ Most street crimes such as robbery, are not really motivated by any complicated psychological abstraction. Instead, they become a tool in the service of achieving some “higher” objective”…such as to “ obtain money, food, or other usable items; control political or drug turf, …..” Dr. Bernard makes the point that street-level crimes usually indicate some deep-rooted pathology within the social system……” He goes on to conclude that “the underlying source is arithmetic growth in the size of an at-risk population that is faced with precious few alternatives to crime….. The cause of all street-level crime and violence ---must be found in the nature of society, not in the mental or emotional states of its citizens” (as in individualized crimes).

The Dr. Bernard makes a case for the root causes of street-level crimes. And these root caused should be familiar to all Caribbeans. “ Three major interrelated forces are responsible for the growth of the country’s “at-risk” or “crime-disposed” population: The decline of agricultural production which led to internal and external migration. The evolution of a disarticulated modern economy. The steady, continuous increases in the rate of growth in the youthful age cohorts without sufficient base for their productive absorption into the economy.” Tim is on record for registering the disastrous failure of the Caribbean in economics and politics

Crime in Jamaica and crime in Antigua (and in Trinidad and Guyana, etc) bespeaks the exclusion of youth. This is why I am almost frightened to death ( a serious crime!) when some disarticulated women seem to buzz with glee to hear that girls are exceeding boys in school and at University.

When Tim Hector and I discussed my wrongful and arbitrary dismissal from Holberton Hospital in 1996, the overwhelming and recurrent theme of our discussion was that the wanton practice of exclusion (or else nepotistic inclusion) in Antigua was excessive, unfair and dangerous. We discussed this exclusion practice in the Health Care services in Antigua in general and at the hospital in particular. And this is why I wonder how Tim felt in his dying hours in Holberton. We doctors have to understand that no matter how much we know, patients have a natural and insatiable desire to see doctors working together and consulting each other. Our bodies work that way.

The proper practice of medicine demands much more than the administration of drugs, the application of a knife, the drawing of blood, cleaning an incapacitated patient, or getting paid. For the sake of the Tims to come. Even the night crawlers: drug pushers, addicts, slashing muggers, night soil technicians, and whoring prostitutes know that!

…………………“And where He trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.”

Farewell dear master and friend.

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