So this is not my usual, sunny news clipping, but after I read this article in the Virgin Islands Daily News I knew it needed to be shared. A high homicide rate is deadly for tourism, as the article points out, so there is a tendency to downplay the issue of violence in the context of tourism in the Virgin Islands. In fact, talking about the violence problem among visitors is considered by some to be downright unpatriotic.
But I think we must give our visitors more credit. Anyone who reads this article would realize that visitors were not the target in any of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ 48 homicides in 2011. (Though, for the record, we must make note of the tragic death in 2010 of a 15-year-old cruise ship visitor to St. Thomas, who was killed in crossfire at Coki Beach.) But anyone reading this article would also realize that the problem we have with guns, violence and delinquent youth will fester and eat away at us in myriad damaging ways unless something is done. While tourists can get on a plane and return home to a homicide rate of 4 per 100,000, those people who live and work in the islands are stuck with the nation’s highest rate of violent death.
Just how visitors are encouraged to care about the protection of our coral reefs, how about encouraging them to care about our young men and vulnerable communities too? No matter how many walls we build, crime and the pain it leaves in its wake will find its way around. Until we all admit that a serious violence problem exists in the Virgin Islands we can’t really start to solve it. We must be outraged into action, and outrage requires us to yell at the top of our lungs and not care who hears us.
This article speaks to the homicide rate in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and while absolute figures in the BVI are lower, a similar brand of seemingly meaningless violent crime is a serious and growing problem here too. And if you listen to the Caribbean news like I do, you would hear similar tales of rising violence and the authorities’ inability to contend up and down the island chain. There is a dire need for all Caribbean nations to compare notes and put heads together and share strategies that work in our unique communities.
There is a certain tone in this article that makes me cock my head. The writer compares the U.S. Virgin Islands’ homicide rate with the U.S. mainland and concludes that “it is more aptly comparable with South and Central American nations or its Caribbean counterparts than anywhere in the United States.” I know that we all labor under the disillusion that the power of the United States is all-knowing and all-powerful but should it really come as a surprise that the Virgin Island are more like St. Kitts or Jamaica than they are, say, Nebraska?
Finally, I must say a word of thanks to the Virgin Islands Daily News for writing this article in the first place. It turns out that serious professional journalism is one thing which the USVI has adopted from the United States, and I am thankful for it.