The U.S. Virgin Islands has a problem with crime but we are not a criminal people.
I often hear fellow Virgin Islanders and tourists alike lamenting about our ongoing issues with increased violence and theft. To be frank, our problems with crime look pretty horrific. I’ve seen the stats but I won’t cite them here because I don’t want to distract you from the following two points.
1. Increased crime is an outcome of marginalization, namely poverty and poor education systems. If you need a reference, get cozy with a text on the sociology of crime. Therefore, increasing punitive measures will not solve our issues with crime. I understand that as a tourism based economy, our government feels pressured to “clean up the streets” in an effort to make tourists feel safe. However, this highlights a critical problem. This territorial reaction to crime reinforces a hierarchy that privileges a predominantly White tourist population at the expense of a predominantly Black and Brown local population. Others have taken a similar course of action. For an example, see work by Christen Smith and others who take a critical look at race and state violence in Brazil. “Cleaning up the streets” to ensure the safety of tourists and the stability of the economy often legally codifies and legitimates racial profiling and police brutality. Punitive solutions are a quick fix that have longstanding consequences.
2. The NYPD is in the throes of grappling with its own issues regarding racially biased policing. In 2013, Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that New York’s “stop and frisk” resulted in systemic racially biased profiling.
“But the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, found that the Police Department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” as it increased the number of stops in minority communities. That has led to officers’ routinely stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.” – Joseph Goldstein’s New York Times Interview
Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a New York City Police Officer recently invigorated existing protests against racist policing practices. How does the VIPD plan to ensure that the NYPD partnership won’t lead to the adoption of similar racist policing tactics in our islands?
If you are interesting in doing some reading around race, policing and incarceration in the United States, see Michele Alexander’s the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. If you’d rather not grab the book, youtube her!