Jan. 8, 2003 – On the same soil where uprisings prompted the emancipation proclamation in 1848 and the Fireburn in 1878, another demonstration of social unrest took place Wednesday in Frederiksted. But this time the protest, albeit loud, was peaceful.
"Shame on you!" was the mantra chanted by about 300 protesters throughout the two-hour ceremony held at Buddhoe Park to celebrate Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's second-term inauguration.
The demonstration was in opposition to actions by Turnbull, who proposed legislation, and the 24th Legislature, which approved it, substantially increasing their own salaries and those of the lieutenant governor. Wednesday's protests followed others Monday on St. Thomas at the inaugural ceremonies and Tuesday on St. John at a public post-inaugural reception. Another has been announced for Monday on St. Thomas at the time the governor is to deliver his annual State of the Territory message.
Monday's demonstration led to a clash with police, the arrest of a teacher and the beating by police of her 69-year-old husband. On Wednesday, the police presence was thick but the protest took place without incident. The protesters were headquartered in the United Caribbean Association building adjacent to Buddhoe Park.
Loudspeakers dueled throughout the ceremony as Terrence Nelson, an organizer of the protest, and other demonstrators shouted messages directed at the governor. "All we want you to do is rescind the raises," Nelson shouted into his microphone.
Despite incessant shouting, chanting, drumming and music from the demonstrators, the ceremony did not miss a beat. And, as has been the case since public complaints about the raises began, Turnbull and newly elected Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards shed no light on how they intend to respond.
Richards, in his speech, said he intends to outline a plan for the economic recovery of St. Croix. "Clearly we have come to a mighty crossroads and we must concentrate on the task at hand," he said. In his only acknowledgment of the din coming from the demonstrators, he said that democracy is at the forefront, "and we have witnessed some of it here today."
Turnbull, who was introduced as the "gentle giant," repeated his intentions to bring "financial responsibility" to the government. "Fiscal responsibility is the cornerstone of good government," he said.
He promised that St. Croix will be at the forefront of his administration's commitment to economic growth, noting that efforts to increase tourism and business investments on the island will continue. He said a "state of the art" mental health facility will be established on St. Croix, while there will be a continuing focus on education and affordable health care.
"We should all be shouting hallelujah, because good things are coming," Turnbull said, as the barricaded protestors chanted "No more lies!"
Turnbull thanked the public for the votes that led to his landslide re-election victory in November. "Let this be a time for unity for the people of the territory," he said. "Whether there be protests, or whatever, we are still one people working together."
After leaving the podium, the governor would not answer questions from the news media about whether he intends to sign the controversial pay-raise bill into law. "You will know how I am going to proceed in the future," he said, hinting that he will speak about the raises in his State of the Territory address Monday night.
Three members of the 25th Legislature are reported to have spoken out publicly against the raises, all of them freshman lawmakers. Senator-elect Shawn-Michael Malone has said he will introduce a bill to roll back the raises if the governor signs them into law. The V.I. Daily News reported Wednesday that two other senators-elect, Raymond Richards and Ronald Russell, indicated that if repeal of the raises comes before the Senate, they will vote for it.
After Wednesday's ceremony, Sen. Douglas Canton, the new Democratic majority leader, said he will speak out on the issue after the governor's address Monday night. "We're looking forward to the 25th Legislature coming in," he said. "Good things are coming that are going to eclipse this issue."
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