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Undercurrents: In Broad Daylight

Undercurrents, a regular Source feature, slips below the surface of the Virgin Islands daily routines and assumptions to explore in greater depth the beauty, the mystery, the murky and the disregarded familiar. It is our bid to get to know the community more deeply.

In Broad Daylight

It was one of those perfect cobalt-blue-sky days when “Judith” left her downtown office at lunchtime to move her car from a short-term parking space. Walking back towards Main Street on the street that runs alongside the Enid Baa Library, she couldn’t help but notice the area was packed with tourists, waiting for taxi pick-ups at the edge of the shopping district.

She also noticed two teenage boys loitering at the corner. Briefly she thought of crossing the street to avoid walking by them.

“For what? They haven’t done you anything,” she recalls saying to herself. “I had a conversation with myself,” Judith said later. “I said, ‘No, they’re not going to trouble me.”

But as soon as she had passed the youths, she felt one of them grab the gold chain hanging around her neck. Instinctively, she resisted and started screaming.

“He scraped up my neck” trying to get the chain, and the force of the struggle “kind of spun me around,” she said. When the chain finally snapped, “it fell and went flying,” she said, and Judith fell backwards, cracking her head on the pavement.

“I was just seeing stars.”

Her high-heeled shoes had flown off too, and she only found one of them. Judith said she believes one of the assailants picked up the other one to use as a weapon as they ran from the scene.

She escaped without serious injury and didn’t lose the chain.

“Dozens and dozens of people” came to assist her, she said. “Some tourists came to help pick me up. People from shops came. The guy from Salvation Army came and he said, ‘Miss, we have shoes if you want to pick a pair.’ People were very, very nice.”

That was the good part.

The bad part is she can’t shake the fear.

Recently she found herself in a queue, and a man came up close behind her in line. She said it took all the control she could muster to keep herself from screaming.

The day a coworker came silently up behind her at work and tapped her shoulder, Judith actually did scream.

The next time she saw a group of young men near a store that she was headed towards, she turned around, got in her car and drove to a different store to do her shopping.

“Every time I think about it, I get upset,” she said, adding that the chain has been repaired but she’s now afraid to wear it.

She tried again a few days ago. “All of a sudden, I just panicked and took it off and put it in my bag. That’s how damn nervous they have me,” she said.

“Now I hardly ever walk without my umbrella with the long point,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

Unsafe at Any Hour

It was about 2 p.m. when “William” left the bank at the heavily trafficked Lockhart Gardens shopping center. In preparation for a trip he was to take the next day, he was carrying a lot of things that he might not otherwise have had in his bag – like $800 in cash.

As he headed for his car in the lot adjacent to the bank, William said, “Somebody fast walking came after me and grabbed my bag” and took off running.

William gave chase. Yelling “Thief, thief,” he said he pursued the young man across the street and well into the Oswald Harris Court housing community. William said he passed a lot of people, and some of them pointed him in the direction of the retreating robber, but no one joined in the pursuit.

“Nobody wants to get involved,” he said. Eventually he lost the man and returned to the shopping center.

A security guard there called the police and an officer took a report at the scene. “He was very, very nice. He was exceptional,” William said.

What was in the bag besides cash?

“My life,” he said. “Three credit cards, driver’s license, check book, all the medical cards. You name it. That was in there. Pictures, personal phone book, telephone address book, my cell phone.”

It’s not easy putting all that back in place.

Alerting the credit card companies was relatively fast. But he said it “takes hours and hours and hours on the phone” to replace an insurance card. “You have to play the telephone: press this, press that, press this, press that, and then yell ‘representative’ to talk to a person.”

Getting an official copy of a driver’s license requires a trip to the Traffic Bureau. “That’s also a dance, but not too bad,” William said.

Replacing his voter’s registration and senior citizens cards will also require a trip to the respective offices. He had to write a childhood friend to explain why he didn’t call him as planned and get his phone number since the only source he had for that was his personal phone book. Other numbers are available from various sources.

But all that is only inconvenience. More importantly William said he finds that “Life has changed for me.”

He said he now locks everything when he’s at home. And when he goes out, “I become more alert of the area.”

In Plain Sight

“Patricia” is more than a little familiar with the Waterfront side of the western end of Charlotte Amalie’s commercial district, the area around the Windward Passage Hotel and Berne’s Alley. Because of her job, she’s walked the same general route to and from her car for 12 years.

On the last Monday of March, just before 4:30 in the afternoon, she stepped onto the sidewalk there and paused to check her email on her IPhone. Without warning, a tall youth dressed in the blues of the Charlotte Amalie High School uniform grabbed the phone “right out of my hand,” she said, and he took off running down the alley.

“Imagine, he’s got a pink iPhone,” she said.

He was with four smaller, younger-looking boys, all wearing the pinks identified with the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School uniform, she said. “The kids just stood there,” possibly as surprised as Patricia.

“I was like in shock,” she said. “It took a second and then I ran after him.” She didn’t catch up to him.

She canceled the phone service, put an ad in the paper asking for information, and called CAHS. “The principal was nice” but with the limited description Patricia could provide, she couldn’t be very helpful.

Her case was mild compared with Judith’s – which occurred just a couple blocks to the north – but she, too, feels the effects whenever she’s in a public place.

“Now I’m like clutching my purse to my side like a hysterical woman,” she said.

Raising the ante

Patricia’s friend “Martha” can relate. One evening not long ago she left her office downtown and headed for her car. It was close to 7 p.m. and she was aware of some “young people” behind her as she passed the St. Thomas Reformed Church on her way to the Waterfront.

Two boys who she said appeared to be about 16 or 17 followed behind her for a few blocks. When she approached her car near the USO building, she looked back and saw the pair turn in a different direction. Relieved, she climbed into her car, locked it, and put the key in the ignition.

That’s when she heard a faint tapping on her window. She ignored it at first, and then it came louder and more insistent.

“I looked this time, and there was a barrel of a gun pointed at me.”

One of the boys was holding it. He wanted her cell phone, and Martha said she threw it out of the car. He didn’t seem interested in robbing anything else.

“They were so young,” she said, it was hard to believe they were experienced criminals. But they were old enough to rob her of her sense of well-being.

“It made me a bit nervous and apprehensive about walking to my car,” she said. “Every person I walk by now, if he’s a young kid, I just look more carefully. I just don’t know what’s next.”

Martha praised the police for their immediate response; an officer drove her that same night into the surrounding areas, looking for the youth. But she was less impressed two weeks later when she spotted the robber on Back Street and called 911. Response was slow and by the time officers arrived, the youth was long gone.

Meanwhile, she asked, “Have you noticed? There’s tons of (broken) glass now on Back Street. People’s cars are getting broken into.”

Trend or coincidence?

All four incidents recounted above happened in a period of approximately two months. The names used are fictitious; the incidents are real. All the victims are long-time residents (one a native) and all say they have never been a victim of street crime before. Are things getting more dangerous, or did we just happen to hear several reports at one time?

Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said two weeks ago that she couldn’t comment on whether there has been an uptick in such crime in and near Charlotte Amalie. She said the department publishes crime statistics on a monthly basis. However, those statistics are not available on the department website; a request for them is pending.

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