Gabriel Josh-Cazir Pierre: A Victim of Poverty

Marc D. Goldfinger
Spare Change News

On Monday September 12, 2011, sometime in the mid-morning, Luis Matos stepped out of the Dorchester day care van thinking he was done until the trip home. What he didn’t realize was that Gabriel Josh-Cazir Pierre, 17 months old, was still strapped into his seat in the van.

It was an 80-plus degree day. Little Gabriel, while both his parents were working, was boiling to death in the heat of the closed-up van. When Luis Matos went back to the van and discovered Gabriel, now dead from excessive heat, Luis had what appeared to be a heart attack and had to be taken to the hospital.

Gabriel, a victim of heat and poverty, was taken to the state medical examiner’s office in the South End to be identified by his heart-broken mother, Virginia Cazir.

The investigation kicks into gear. Who is responsible? Whom shall we punish for the death of the child? On the front page of the Boston Globe (on Wednesday, Sept. 14th, 2011), there is a picture of the grieving mother, Virginia, and her son, Gabriel Josh-Cazir Pierre. In the picture, Virginia is smiling and Gabriel is laughing.

That is a picture of the past. Only sorrow exists for Virginia today. Gabriel’s future is gone, literally cooked away. The day care was temporarily shut down.

What happened? State regulations require drivers to keep a count of all children in the van. The driver is supposed to check the van and then put up a sign on the van that says “Empty” at the end of each trip.

The day care center on Floyd Street in Dorchester was not shut down because of Gabriel’s death. It was shut down because the state found the day care center did not have proper city permits and was up for renewal but still operating, violations of the law.

But that was not the cause of Gabriel’s death. Luis Matos, the van driver, worked for a large transportation system called the Associated Early Care and Education Inc. of Boston. They carry close to 600 children a day.

How come nobody noticed Gabriel was missing or did a double check with his parents to make sure everything was in order? Gabriel’s family probably fell into the poverty zone and, quite possibly, they were working at jobs where it was extremely difficult to contact them.

Who has time anyway? So many children, so much to do, diapers to change, meals to be provided or fed to the children, and (this is just a guess), that the day care centers are woefully understaffed and the workers underpaid when one considers the cost of living in the Boston area.

According to the Boston Globe, “the state’s chief regulator of day-care centers said her office will conduct an investigation to see if state regulations are strict enough after receiving a call from Governor Deval Patrick.”

Everyone is saddened by the tragedy. Sherri Killins, Commissioner of the State Department of Early Education and Care, according to the Globe, says, “We are looking at our procedures to make sure they are sufficient to protect our children.”

Obviously those procedures are not sufficient. This is not the first time children have been left in vans, or dropped off at the wrong school. In Newton, a while ago, a student wasn’t dropped off because he was a child of color and they weren’t sure where he went. As it turned out, he did go to Newton. Imagine: a child of color in Newton!

What failure in the system killed Gabriel Josh-Cezar Pierre? If I were to take a guess, I would say poverty is the culprit. The drivers have too many children to deal with and they are underpaid. The day care workers have too many children to deal with and they are underpaid.

Gabriel’s parents work very hard at their prospective jobs, and when you take the cost of living in the Boston area into account, they are underpaid.

It seems as if I read about tragedies like this all too often and they always involve poor children with working parents. Of course both parents are working — they wouldn’t need day care if only one parent had to work.

Sadly enough, even though both parents are working, in many cases the parents still don’t make enough money due to the cost of living in the Boston area. Poverty is always the culprit when something like this happens.

Tell me, have you ever read in the newspapers about this happening to a rich child? I’ll bet not. Even if rich people send their children to child care, they pay plenty and usually have a Nanny, which means one worker, one child. And that’s only so the rich parent can go to the country club or play Canasta — or sit in a luxurious café and sip lattes while the air conditioner hums. They don’t have to worry about who’s taking care of their child. They don’t have to worry about a glitch in the system that will kill their child — because they have enough money and their child is not in the system.

So, who killed Gabriel? Well, obviously the heat in the closed-up van — which may or may not have had a sign on it that said “Empty.” But it wasn’t empty, was it? There was a living breathing human child sitting in that van baking to death. Imagine sitting in an oven for six hours.

No, you don’t want to do that, do you? Neither did Gabriel, just 17 months old. And Virginia Cazir doesn’t even want to imagine what the last hours of Gabriel’s life were like. Even Luis Matos, the van driver, doesn’t want to imagine what Gabriel’s last hours of life were like.

I really believe he had a heart attack when he found out. I used to drive a van for adults and children with disabilities when I was younger. If I caused something like that by not paying enough attention because I was overwhelmed with my workload, I would have had an attack of some sort. My emotions would have been shredded. I still don’t want to live through Gabriel Josh-Cazir Pierre’s last hours. It was the heat that killed him. But it was also the poverty of the system that deals with children of the poor that killed him. We did this.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a formerly homeless vendor who is now housed. He can be reached at junkietroll@yahoo.com Marc also has books on www.smashwords.net that can be downloaded for $2.99.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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