A group of Virgin Islanders staged a demonstration Tuesday at the St. Croix office of the Water and Power Authority to protest the WAPA board’s handling of racially charged statements made on social media by Mark Kragel, who until Tuesday was the deputy legal counsel of WAPA.
In a meeting held on Monday, the board denounced the actions of Kragel and stated an “active investigation” into Kragel’s comments was “currently underway.” The board also determined the decision would ultimately be up to the utility’s executive director, Lawrence Kupfer.
Following the Monday meeting, Kupfer said, “Expressions by WAPA employees on privately-owned social media accounts and other public forums do not reflect those of the Authority’s governing board, its senior leadership team or management. Management and senior leadership employees are never encouraged to express unpopular, politically incorrect and/or inflammatory statements.”
According to some of Tuesday’s protesters, Kragel’s social media post and the fact that he hadn’t been dismissed just added fuel to the fire of their dissatisfaction with WAPA’s performance. Some signs read “Respect my existence or, expect resistance” and “Mark Kragel has to go.”
The protest’s organizers included members and organizations from the community and radio cast of Project 3-2-1 on the Vivid Streaming application. Project 3-2-1 is an online radio station with studios on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
“Our enemy right now is WAPA, and it has always been WAPA,” said Chris Sealey, a protest organizer and host of Project 3-2-1. “Most of the reason why most of our local businesses do not thrive is because of WAPA.”
Another protester, Lileth Grouey, said, she was there to demand Kragel be fired or should resign.
“The board said yesterday that it does not have the power to fire him, but I think that something must be done,” she said.
Ce-Ce Sanes and Christopher Rivera, both of Project 3-2-1, shared that sentiment. They have both recently moved back to the islands and said returning opened their eyes to what they consider the many injustices.
“We have people that are angry, frustrated and people who just want justice to be served,” said Rivera.
Meanwhile, Sanes, whose fiery energy was between protesting and Facebook Live to get the message out said, “Everyone is upset and tired of the manipulation. Everyone is feeling disrespected. … This is a predominantly black community. In the mainland, when people made comments regarding Black Lives Matter, they were immediately terminated. For them not to take action and do what was right and give a bad excuse saying it isn’t in their authority.”
Protestor Kenyatta Crispin said he was there “to stand up to what Mark Kragel said about Black Lives Matter.”
Samuel Carrion said he is out to protest in solidarity with everyone else who was there.
“We all know what Mr. Mark has said,” Carrion said. “This is home, a place of unity and love. We cannot allow that type of racism in our home. We have to fight it. It’s also a place where our ancestors had to fight for liberty and equality.”
At the same time, he kept his focus on complaints with WAPA.
“We’ve all been suffering with high energy costs, the LEAC. It’s time for all of us to stand together and not accept that kind of conduct,” he said.
Online petitions calling for Kragel’s resignation also circulated, accumulating more than 1,000 signatures in the handful of days since Kragel’s social media post touched off the furor. The Water and Power Authority released a statement saying, “It goes without saying that this behavior will not be tolerated by leaders of this organization, and I dare say all those in our community who value and respect people equally.”