Following two fatal shootings last week, the entire Virgin Islands community must take an unequivocal stand against violence and recommit to stamping it out over the long term with sustained collaborative action.
Police have recorded six homicides in 2018, a rate that is already much too close to last year’s record 10. This is scary. The 2017 homicide rate was nearly 36 per 100,000 people, some six times the global average. This number represented a deeply troubling increase from the previous eight years, when the territory typically saw between two and four killings, a rate of seven to 14 per 100,000, which is already much too high.
What is causing this plague? That is a complicated question, but recent court cases suggest that part of the problem is the drug trade and other criminal enterprises whose participants live and die by the bullet — and sometimes destroy the lives of innocent bystanders. Such criminality is a cancer that is destroying too many of the territory’s impressionable young men, and it must be stopped.
Police, who are on the front lines, are frustrated with their working conditions. Last week, their commissioner took the unusual step of complaining publicly about the government’s failure to restore the force’s facilities more than a year after Hurricane Irma.
He was right to do so: Most police buildings that were destroyed in last year’s storms — including the Road Town headquarters — still haven’t been repaired. The main police station is functioning, but it remains leaky, and vehicles are limited.
This situation is unacceptable, but lawmakers played politics for months instead of expeditiously passing the Recovery and Development Plan, which, thankfully, they finally passed last week, presumably helping to free up funding necessary to tackle such projects.
In order to keep the territory secure, police need adequate facilities, including buildings and vehicles. But that’s not enough. They also need community support, which too often is lacking.
After a murder, politicians, business leaders and other community members tend to get fired up, taking to social media and other public forums to express outrage. But a few days later, the noise typically dies down and potential witnesses fail to come forward. As a result, too many murders go unsolved even though residents sometimes know the identity of the perpetrators.
The VI must do better in responding to murder and other violent crime, particularly at a time when the economy is struggling to recover and jobs are harder to find.
This means reaching out to young people to help them find employment and other support, and it means launching new programmes to keep adolescents off the streets, among other measures.
Non-profit organisations can help. So can businesses, schools, churches and neighbourhood crime-prevention groups.
However, perhaps the most important step is for the community as a whole to steadfastly refuse to turn a blind eye to offences large and small.
Ultimately, it will take a long-term collaborative effort at all levels of society to demonstrate that violent crime will no longer be tolerated in this territory.