Every day I hear or read more and more of the stories are about crime in the Source. Someone being robbed, someone being stabbed, shot or raped. When will it end? Where will it end? I cannot help but feel that we are killing our community and, in that, killing ourselves. The more crime rises, the less freedom we have as a community.
In addition, we diminish our local resources, because fewer tourists will be willing to come to our territory. The decline in tourism dollars (our major source of revenue) diminishes the quality of our lives. Without tourists, where are we? Will this decline lead to crime further spiraling out of control because our standard of living has dropped further, and our economic standing proportionately? Will this decline ignite both economic and personal depression?
We must all come to understand that crime does not affect just the victim and the victim's family. It affects each and every one of us. We all become the victim. Our seniors are victims when they no longer leave their homes because they are afraid; our children, when they can no longer play as children; our women, because their very essence is stolen when they become victims of rape or domestic abuse; and our young men, in forfeiting their sense of manhood when they are bullied to participate in activities that they truly wish not to be a part of.
Truly attacking crime will require that we dig deeper to root out the underlying causes for criminal behavior. Clearly, filling up our prisons is not the solution. Even capital punishment (which I support) has not deterred the increase in crime. Few communities can brag that their crime rates have decreased as a result of tougher sentences or even capital punishment.
I do not have the answers; but I do have some basic common-sense recommendations. Although there will always be some persons that we cannot reach as a community, there is a majority that can be reached. I believe there are three intervention stages: young children, young adults and adults in need of rehabilitation.
Children enter the world with a blank slate. We, the parents and adults, fill the slate by passing on our beliefs, habits and ideas of how we see the world. Children as they grow replicate what they experience. If we as role models change our own behavior, we can change the behavior of our children.
We must remember and take advantage of the fact that the Virgin Islands has the best of both worlds. Living on islands, we have some choice in what we import; that includes the importing of images both good and bad. If we import negative imagines, our children import negative behaviors. If we import positive imagines, our children import positive behaviors.
Sadly, we have begun to imitate too much of the negative imagines from the mainland. Our community has lowered its tolerance of what is acceptable behavior for our children. Little is said about our little girls who now dress like half-dressed women, or about our young men who are dressing and walking around looking and acting too much like hardened older men.
Our children are no longer satisfied with the simple life but often want more than their means, or their parents' means, will allow them. In the quest to meet our children's material demands, we as parents often fail to teach our children the importance of self-esteem, integrity, honesty, common courtesy and hard work. As our children grow into young adults, many turn to crime to get those material things often seen in the music videos and movies that promote living "large" (the blink, blink) that they now feel they must have.
The idea of working hard and saving to get the best of life is considered something that the "old" folks do. Instant gratification, materialism and the lack of a sense of belonging are frequently cited by young adults as the reasons that they have turned to crime. If we, the adults, begin to de-emphasize the importance of material things and to emphasize the importance of such things as values, integrity, kindness, self-esteem and the joy of family, maybe we can intervene before our children are blinded by the sense of false gratification from material possessions that have led so many astray.
Young adults frantically trying to find their way in the world are easily led down a path of crime because they are desperate to fit in and feel a part of something. Unfortunately, many believe the last place where they fit and or are accepted is the home. And, sadly, they have not been taught how to make tough decisions; so, they often make the wrong decision.
For those who have made the wrong decision, the Virgin Islands must do a better job of rehabilitation. The model that we follow from the mainland is not sufficient for us. We should break that model and create a model that serves the Virgin Islands.
We must gather all our resources to address our crime problems here in the territory. Teachers, principles, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, priests, pastors, churches, lawyers, judges, police officers, community organizations and business organizations must answer the call. We need more at-risk intervention programs and fewer lock-them-up programs. We need community service programs, not idle-mind prison sentences.
Our prison release system should include transition programs from Day One of incarceration wherein businesses partner with the individuals who will one day be released in need of jobs, rather than those individuals being released without any hope of finding sustaining employment.
We should establish more safety-net programs to catch individuals before they cross the line into a life of crime. Managing finances, parenting and making life decisions should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum beginning in grade school. Students need to learn early the workplace behaviors and expectations that will enable them to both acquire and retain jobs.
These are just a few of the things we could begin to do to fight crime in the territory. Until we all accept the fact that we are all victims; crime will continue to rise. Let's not wait until it happens to us personally to begin the battle. Begin today!
Editor's note: Lawrence Boschulte chairs the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections.
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