Alrick Thomas’ family and friends will lay him to rest Friday. The 54-year-old husband and father was shot to death while working for the Department of Public Works — getting the streets clear and safe to reopen after the adult St. Thomas Carnival parade.
The killing of Alrick Thomas was a deplorable act of singular violence. It was also a crime against every single Virgin Islander.
Carnival is a time for coming together, embracing the carefree and fantastical, dancing in the street. Weapons of any sort have no place at Carnival. Guns are especially odious.
The murder took place mere feet from the parade route, minutes after the tramp’s official end. The streets were still spilling over with people: children, parents, semi-inebriated revelers, public officials, and older people who had come to watch the cultural torch passing from one generation to the next.
A few ticks of the clock earlier, when the streets were truly packed and the world’s cameras rolling, gunfire could have killed many more than those hit by bullets. Stampedes at sports matches, religious events, and secular celebrations like Carnival kill hundreds around the globe. More than 150 people were killed and another 130-plus were injured at a Seoul Halloween event last year.
And those cameras …
Many of us remember Carnivals partially rescheduled by threats of gun violence. Bad as that was — and it was bad — the immediacy of modern media could make a shots-fired incident national news. THE WRONG KIND OF NEWS. The kind of news that could upend decades of brand building.
One of the great joys of Carnival is it brings people home. The USVI diaspora comes home. They don’t have to. If it’s uncomfortable or unsafe, they’ll skip a year. Maybe two. And these are dedicated USVI fans, not fickle first-timers.
You already know police found two separate men with guns downtown as j’ouvert ended. They were arrested without incident and charged with possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. They were needles in a haystack. We don’t know how many more brought undetected guns. And we don’t know why someone would bring a firearm to a crowded, noisy, bacchanal like j’ouvert. But we do know the outcome of Carnival violence. It’s a crime against every single Virgin Islander.
While the crime of having an unlicensed gun is sadly common amongst young men in the territory, bringing a gun to Carnival events is particularly offensive. A gunfight could hurt hundreds of people, wreck St. Thomas’ defining cultural event, monkey wrench the tourism-dependent economy, and completely disrespect the thousands of hours put into preparing an event where generations of Virgin Islanders can do what we’re supposed to do best: celebrate.
Not only should all Carnival events be gun-free zones, but carrying a firearm to a Carnival event should be a crime unto itself. Like bringing a gun into a courthouse or school, or an airplane, bringing a gun to Carnival is no petty offense. It’s something akin to terrorism.
Say what you will about the mock-J’ouvert staged for a soca-themed Norwegian Cruise Line ship — and there are differing opinions on its benefit and impact — you can’t deny the imagery. Jubilant people tramping up and down the waterfront in the hot sun for no other reason than a deep need to fete.
And that was nothing compared to the actual J’ouvert, where a sea of partiers flooded the quayside morning.
A gun at this event would be tragedy a of wild proportions.
Any firearm — legal or not — at a Carnival event is a potential disaster. The gun allegedly used to kill Thomas was legally registered. Usually, we think of this as a sign of some maturity and responsibility in the gun owner. Obviously not, in some cases.
So what’s to be done? We could (and should) make sure all Carnival events are officially gun-free zones. And we could (and maybe should) make gun crimes at Carnival events some sort of enhanced felony. But cops and courts are reactions to a problem, not preemptive measures.
Someone villain enough to bring a gun to Carnival is unlikely to be dissuaded by its illegality, nor the tongue-lashing of a local newspaper editorial. We can’t shame the shameless.
Just as Carnival guns are a crime against each of us, it is each of our responsibilities to stand firmly against it. We, all of us, need to normalize calling out irresponsible gun ownership. Please talk to the young people in your lives about guns. It might not be a comfortable conversation. But every single Virgin Islander is depending on you.