Home Commentary Op-ed INCREDULITY REIGNS



Not a month after election, and I read with incredulity that, in what appears to be one fell swoop, the Housing Police and Victim Advocates are closing their doors. Tragic enough for a community of this size, but to be taking place in the midst of an outbreak of crime and violence which has no precedence makes some of us wonder if we have awakened, like Alice, in a land in which up is down and black is white. These two agencies are among the territory’s major players in our ongoing fight against crime and violence. Other agencies on the forefront of that battle are still suffering financially, and their future is uncertain. Last year, two other agencies were on the brink of shutting their doors.
We must ask ourselves how and why this contradiction continues to occur and what we plan to do about it. Agencies engaged in the direct fighting of crime and the consequences of crime are being allowed to suffer financially, while new SUVs and new office furniture are ordered. I recently had occasion to screen a video, recently made by Virgin Island’s Lillibet Foster, dealing with the systematic rape of 11- to 25-year-old women in Sierra Leone. The video dealt with the psychological, sociological, economic and political effects of this on these women and the children born to them.
I was forced, when viewing this, to consider the plight of Virgin Islands women and children, who are experiencing physical and sexual assault at an unprecedented rate. One might, without too much of a stretch, consider this the systematic (conscious or unconscious) rape of the women and children of the Virgin Islands. We have yet to consider in depth the effect upon our culture of the heinous acts we read about daily. The effects of children raising children are well known. We will experience these effects for generations. The lack of commitment to agencies which deal with the healing of these women and children and their subsequent empowerment can be seen as an attempt to further marginalize the women and children of the Virgin Islands and keep them "in their place."
It is past time we asked ourselves what our priorities are, and how we are going to achieve the Paradise we advertise on television. We have not yet analyzed the causes and cures for this unprecedented spate of violent crime. We have not yet begun to tackle issues of gross poverty, rampant teen pregnancy, an epidemic of HIV/AIDs, economic disparities to rival third world nations, and an imposing cultural imperialism. This represents a stellar opportunity for the new administration and the new senate to vigorously address these major issues. We continue to ignore, avoid and deny these issues to our peril.
We cannot continue business as usual. We look forward to a hearty tourist season. It appears to have started dynamically. We were blessed to have had a successful hurricane season, with enough rain to have the territory looking green and exceedingly attractive for our visitors. We have an administration dedicated to tackling the economic issues of St. Croix. However, all plans – indeed all our futures – are threatened by out-of-control crime. The answer, I fear, is not just enforcement, but understanding dynamics and causes and working with intensity and substance to eradicate the causes of this violence. Unless and until we dedicate ourselves to this, we risk long term consequences too serious to contemplate.
We have the potential to serve as a model for the mainland, and, indeed, for the world. We can become a model of cooperation, of tolerance, of prosperity, of racial harmony. But this can only be done after we acknowledge the difficulties in which we presently find ourselves and agree to commit ourselves to solving these difficult issues. This will take courage, honesty, disciplined intelligence and unsurpassed integrity. Time is running out. The need to act has been upon us, and urgency is essential. We commit ourselves to work with all people of good will; together we can make this happen. We will join hands with all who seek the goals of unity, respect and fairness.
Please join us.

Editor's note: Dr. Iris Kern is the executive director of The Safety Zone.
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