A while ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about proposing a peace treaty with the Cape Verde Islands: We help them sell rum; they agree to not send hurricanes. In reading up on the Atlantic archipelago near Senegal, I learned petty crime was pretty common. Pick pockets, break-ins, that kind of stuff. Instantly I didn’t want to visit. And I hated the idea that locals there had to deal with that sort of thing.
It’s the perfect example for our “local tourist” series. Cabo Verdeans and their would-be visitors would both benefit from solving this problem. I don’t actually know anyone there so this is just conjecture. But I’ll bet if we did a what’s-going-well-and-what-could-be-done-better series of articles in Santo Antão we’d get a lot of the same responses that we did here.
Tourists hate mosquitos. Locals have learned to deal with them. Tourists don’t like all-night soca parties at Earth-shaking volume. Locals either love them or endure them, knowing they serve a purpose. We all hate crime. All the humans hate crime. Even the criminal dem don’t wan get rob up.
“The biggest deterrents to returning as a repeat tourist is the crime rate and the attitude of a lot of locals,” one reader wrote. “While murders are thankfully down this year, in past years the territory ranked near the top of the world in per capita murders. I’ve been robbed twice in the past two years.”
Several people, including the above reader, thought Virgin Islanders had a “chip on their shoulder” and emanated “bad vibes.”
Some of it got borderline, in my opinion:
“It’s time to shed the past and move forward to a brighter future. The territory has had locally elected predominantly Black leadership for 60 years. The federal government provides an inordinate amount of support to V.I. and it is squandered every year. So don’t blame outside influences for the current issues confronting the islands. The average age is 35, so there are two generations living in this era of local leaders. The people need to hold leadership responsible for making a truly positive impact. Get rid of the corruption, wipe out crime, embrace pride in the community and then we attract enterprises that will provide more opportunities in the islands.”
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so let’s hope the reader isn’t saying crime is an endemic part of the Black experience. It is not. It is young Black men whose mugshots come across my desk most frequently, very often arrested for guns and ganja, and driving while stupid, frankly. But that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as our islands are largely populated with Black people and it is young men who most often recklessly engage in dangerous crimes.
Also, not blaming outside influences for our problems while depending on outside sources to provide opportunities seems weird. Where do you think those guns are made? What market do you think the cocaine smuggled through the territory is headed to? It’s all interconnected.
Taking pride in our community is what this series of articles is all about, so that I can get behind. I think the reader is saying there is every reason to feel ownership of our territory and no reason to feel like outsiders. Being a tourist destination can make locals feel like outsiders; it’s true. And it’s made worse by being treated as second-class American citizens, as a vocal civil rights advocacy group claims.
Let’s look at the real fallacy here. It’s a fantasy to “wipe out crime.”
Remember the intrepid reader who answered the public-toilet-locator call? She not only created a Google Maps for public toilets on St. Thomas but also sent in a nifty QR code for easy use.
Now, for the first time in history, anyone with a smart phone can instantly pull up the location of a free or pretty-much-free toilet anywhere one exists on St. Thomas.
What change do you expect to see in public urination? Somewhere between zero and none would be my guess.
Some degree of violent crime is inevitable. Ever open up a Bible? The first couple pages has a guy murdering his brother. Given our situation — lots of guns, plenty of smuggling, less than stellar public eduction, plenty of upheaval from natural disasters (looking at you, Cape Verde) — we can expect a level of criminality will thrive. And looking at the crime rate through the filter of our limited population, yeah, the figures are going to look more like a war zone than a tourist Mecca.
Two decades ago, I lived in Road Town without internet and the only news we got about the U.S. Virgin Islands came from the Daily News. Cocobeh p’ontoppa yaws! My friends and I were terrified to sail cross the border. Shootings, stabbings, rapes, all the time. When I eventually moved to Charlotte Amalie, I actually carried a knife in my pocket the first few days. I was certain some villain would leap out at me from the shadows.
It never happened, thankfully. And I feel silly about it now. Crime is almost everywhere but not reported on the front page. The fear remains, however, in many of our visitors and would-be residents.
“I have vacationed twice on St. Croix. I really love the island especially the Cane Bay area. I even began looking into living there. I get two sources of news daily from USVI. Between the crime and especially the shootings I just don’t feel safe.”
Generally speaking, you should never move somewhere you don’t feel safe. I was literally digging ditches at a snowy construction site in Oregon when the Associated Press offered me my dream job in the Caribbean, so I won’t say never move somewhere you don’t feel safe. You have a right to safety, however. And I learned to feel safe in the USVI. And I hope you do too.
That said, violent crime is real and gunplay is way too common everywhere in the United States. It’s not just our islands. Rooting out gun smugglers should be a priority. Making locals feel as important as visitors should be a priority. Community pride should be a priority.
If you missed any of our “local tourist” series, they are linked below. If you have a take we haven’t covered yet, please reach out at email@example.com