Around 45 people from civic, church, government agencies and nonprofit organizations gathered Wednesday at the University of the Virgin Islands, Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, for training on hate crimes and the law.
Liberty Place, a nonprofit on St. Croix that promotes equality, tolerance and respect for all Virgin Islanders, organized the hate crime training in collaboration with the Department of Justice Community Relations Service.
Liberty Place cofounder Melba Mathurin said she believes it is one thing to have legislation and laws in place, but it is important to have education provided on what hate crimes are.
She said the purpose of the training is to create awareness in the law enforcement community about the nature and impact of hate crimes and to build skills in identifying, investigating and improving reporting of hate crime incidents.
Sgt. Alan Lewit, forensics officer in the VIPD, said he wasn’t aware that the hate crime law was in effect. He said that, in his position, it’s good to know about the law and who it affects.
In January Gov. John deJongh Jr. signed the Hate-Motivated Crimes Act of 2013 and it was enacted on and passed by the Legislature in Act No. 7581.
The act is to increase the penalty for any existing crime of violence when the crime is motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Participants in the training held at the Great Hall were from the Youth Rehabilitation Center, the Disability Rights Center, Inter Faith Coalition, the Departments of Human Services, Health and Police, the Palestinian community, Lutheran Social Services and St. Croix Rotary Club.
Matthew Lattimer, U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service; James Latham, U.S. Attorney’s Office of the V.I.; Bruce Marshack, deputy attorney general V.I. Department of Justice; and Antoinette James of the VIPD spoke about the law. These panelists answered legal questions about hate crimes and gave hypothetical scenarios about what makes up a hate crime.
Mathurin led a panel and participants’ discussion on what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and how these individuals are often treated in the local community. She said it’s like talking about the elephant in the room. Some involved said they had never even thought of how the local LGBT population was treated.
Mathurin brought up the cultural and religious taboos in the Caribbean. She said hate crimes may be motivated by prejudice, bigotry or intolerance. She says LGBT people face violence, discrimination and bias in the workplace and out in the community everyday just because of who they are – and they deserve the same rights and protection under the law.
Lavern March, who works with discrimination complaints in the Department of Labor, said the business community needs to be educated about harassment on the job and that it is actually being tolerated.
“This was a very informative topic and it ties in with what we do,” March said.
Many attending said they want to continue having the discussions and networking. For more information or where to go with questions and concerns, Mathurin said call her at Liberty Place 340-277-3766.