Some Virgin Islanders are disappointed after a permit was denied that would have allowed 2020 high school graduates and their parents to hold a celebratory motorcade. The concern began when members of the community noticed that a motorcade held in honor of George Floyd took place on Friday, June 9, which parents incorrectly presumed the Virgin Islands Police Department approved. Police say both permits were denied due to health concerns with the ongoing viral pandemic but First Amendment rights apply to peaceful citizen protests.
Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while other officers held him down, watched and did nothing to help. People from all around the globe have been participating in peaceful protests to honor his wrongful death. The U.S. Virgin Islands joined in on the protests and held a motorcade on St. Croix and peaceful protests on St. Thomas and St. John.
The VIPD announced Thursday, June 4, that they were continuing to abide by the restrictions set into place by the Department of Health and not approving mass gathering of 50 people and above. Therefore, the celebratory motorcade for the high school class of 2020 that was scheduled to take place on June 7, on St. Croix was not given a permit.
“The people for the protest applied for the permit, and they were also denied,“ said Toby Derima, the public relations officer for the VIPD. “We need to keep in mind that the right to protest is a guaranteed right federally. Although the police department did not provide the protesters’ permits, we cannot stop them from protesting. This would be a violation of their rights.”
The motorcade for the graduates was expected to take place at the Altona Lagoon and last from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. The route for the motorcade was set to proceed west, passing the high schools, non-stop, until its conclusion at Fort Frederik in Frederiksted.
One parent who asked to be referred to as Petersen expressed her disappointment with the Department of Health’s guidelines, calling it a “huge slap in the face to those students.” She continued, “These young adults are our future and deserved their moment.” Petersen, who has a graduate attending the St. Croix Educational Complex, said her daughter was extremely disappointed.
“We hadn’t celebrated prom or any other senior events, the least that could have been done was a motorcade,” she said.
Other organizers, such as Sen. Kenneth Gittens, also seemed upset with the VIPD decision to follow the guidelines set into place. He posted on his social media page a series of documentation that provided proof that a permit was requested for the graduates.
According to Derima, given that the George Floyd motorcade was going to happen, the police department took the position they would provide support to ensure safety. “We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; it would be irresponsible for the police department to issue permits during mass gatherings when we know people are not going to distance themselves socially,” he said.
“I am hoping we can figure out something to celebrate these graduates and their accomplishments,” Petersen said. Sen. Javan James, who serves as the chairman of the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation, also provided a statement in support of the motorcade via his Facebook page. But under the Department of Health’s instructions, the CDC guidelines are being enforced and the decision remains final. “I have been in communication with the Commissioner of Education regarding an alternative for the graduates during the pandemic,” James said.