September 30, 2005
Turnbull Asks for FBI and DOJ to Speed Up Investigation and Answers
From the St. Thomas Source:
"Gov. Charles W. Turnbull took St. John's racial tensions to Washington, D.C. by asking U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to press for answers in the federal government's investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the investigation into recent alleged racially-motivated crimes on St. John.
"The incidents have inflamed emotions in St. John and across the territory, resulting in a series of demonstrations and protest marches planned during the first week of October," the governor wrote to Gonzales.
He told Gonzales that the demonstrations are timed to coincide with the day residents commemorate Contract Day, "often referred to as the Fireburn, which is the anniversary of a slave uprising which occurred on St. Croix in 1878."
In fact, slavery ended 30 years earlier –– in 1848. The Fireburn was a workers' rebellion.
A rally, march and motorcade, a joint effort between groups from St. Croix and St. John, are scheduled for Saturday. A week of events including forums are also planned."
More here. Here's another snippet:
"However, Monique-Sibilly Hodge, assistant Tourism commissioner, said that so far, she's not gotten any reports from the territory's travel partners about the situation."
I mean, of course she is going to say that. No one in the industry is going to say anything, because it has the potential to be a very negative story for tourism, and the local economy. Unfortunately this doesn't seem like the kind of story that is just going to go away, or be ignored away. I am hoping that Saturday is a peaceful and calm day on St. John, for everyone's sake, but if things go bad, you can bet Ms. Sibilly-Hodge is going to be hearing a lot.
September 27, 2005
USVI mired in allegations of hate crimes
Well it isn't the NY Times or CNN or one of the networks, but there is a story out today on the web from Caribbean Net News about the "unrest" in St. John. I think the story has many problems frankly, and includes some very confusing paragraphs and inaccurate statements (so just imagined how it will end up once the main stream media does get a hold of it). It also names Esther Frett as the rape victim:
"The incidents escalated and came to a head on June 30 when Esther Frett was shoved by the storeowner who was subsequently arrested. On Aug. 30, news spread around the islands that Ester (sic) Frett had been kidnapped, raped and thrown into the sea."
From all I have read so far I don't think the police have ever identified Frett as the victim. The piece ends with this:
"Some residents are experiencing economic hardships and have, or are in danger of losing land that has been passed down from generation to generation as a result of wealthy people coming into the islands and purchasing land and building expensive homes thus raising the amount of taxes owed on the property."
Have the property taxes on vacant land on St. John really gone up that much that people are "losing" their property over it? I think this paragraph is a canard and totally wrong, if you think otherwise let me know.
September 26, 2005
From the Tradewinds:
Some officials view the demonstration as a potentially positive opportunity as long as it remains peaceful and non-violent. “My concern is that although the stated intent is to show solidarity for the native people of St. John, there could be one or two or three or more people in Mario’s group who would have an intent to commemorate the Fireburn in a much more graphic and realistic method than he has been calling for on his radio program,” said Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger, who said he asked Crucians three weeks ago on AM 670 to not come to St. John if they had any intention of violence. “I said St. John is Love City and we continue to invest the effort necessary to keep it the wonderful multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-racial community that it is,” said Sen. Barshinger. There is a “mixed message” circulating about the march, according to Sen. Barshinger. “On the radio, people are talking about coming in solidarity, but there is an undercurrent that it may be a reenactment of the 1878 Fireburn,” he said. “The question is: why are they coming?” said Barshinger. “My only concern is what is in their hearts; are they coming to affirm the right to be free from intimidation in one’s own home – if so, I applaud them and welcome them.” “But if they are coming with the intention of violence, either toward persons or property, then they should not come,” he added.
Crucians Preparing to March on St. John
From the St. Thomas Source today:
"From Hurricane Hole to Cruz Bay, our people need to feel comfortable going from one side of the island to another," Kherishetapheru told the crowd.
Is that really true? Are St. Johnians really afraid to cross their own island? I have to question the language of the comment - when someone says "our people" and not "all people" or the "people of St. John" it so obviously feeds into the whole "us and them" mentality, and obviously the "us and them" that Dr. Kherishetapheru is talking about are black people and white people. Click here for the rest of the article.
September 23, 2005
March in Support of Fretts Scheduled for St. John
From the St. John Source:
Sept. 22, 2005 - Several groups and individuals from St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John are organizing a protest march on St. John on Oct. 1. According to organizers, the protest is intended to "show solidarity for the Frett family."
"We are coming to demand answers and put pressure on law enforcement to be more engaging to the community," Dr. Chenzira Kherishetapheru, one of the organizers of the protest march, said Thursday. Kherishetapheru said she expects the protest to be peaceful. "We are respectfully asking that anyone who is counterproductive not to attend the protest," she said. "We are within our civil and constitutional rights."
On Aug. 30, news spread around the islands that a St. John woman had been kidnapped, raped and assaulted. The woman, later identified as Esther Frett, had previously been the victim of alleged hate crimes. Someone had written racial epithets on the fence of the house she shares her husband, Jerry. There were also several drawings left on their car of a hangman's noose and stick figures of a woman.
Click here for the full article. I think I am so interested in this story because I see it as a microcosm of America, boiled down to this one tiny island. America is a racially and economically divided place - and now on St. John we are going to see a potentially dramatic event unfold (this planned protest) which could be a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the country.
Update: There is also an article in the Daily News today - "St. Croix group getting permits, making plans for St. John protest"
September 21, 2005
The real root of our troubles
This was a guest editorial in the VI Daily News last week:
Peter Muilenburg Thursday, September 15th 2005
When my wife and I arrived here 37 years ago we were treated with respect and hospitality. St. John was a model of interracial harmony, a wonderful village to raise a child in, a Caribbean island owned and governed by Caribbean people.
Then things changed, slowly at first, then with frightening rapidity after 9-11. Whereas the early continentals saw themselves as guests and even the very wealthy ones satisfied themselves with modest homes, now more and more continentals came down, some of whom were impatient with the old island ways. People who didn't know "tun-tun" from tuna fish or Arrow from Sparrow were driving around like they owned the place - and guess what, they did!
They bought land which they proceeded first to strip mine, then to bury under tons of cement, erecting monuments to conspicuous consumption that were wholly out of step with St. John's style. The Grand Bay condos symbolize what went wrong with the island. How did that obtrusive monstrosity get approved by CZM? Those condos are selling for $900,000, (you gonna buy one?) selling St. John's beauty - selling it right down the river. Somehow they got permission to block that beauty from those behind them, who came before them and should have some rights. Human rights, born-here rights, live-here rights, raised-my-children-here rights.
Did we need this blot on the bay? No, nobody likes it. Then why was it built? Easy. Because a lot money was made off the deal by some high- finance "whup-whop man" who done the deal and gone.
People came to sail, or to drink cheap rum, for the world class beaches, or for the reggae or the fishing, or just for their piece of paradise. Believe it or not, some even came because the Caribbean culture was such a refreshing change from the uptight, materialistic mainland. And all of them were surprised, and some of them hurt when they first realized that, to increasing numbers of Virgin Islanders, they were the enemy.
The famous Japanese movie Rashomon explores how "reality" changes one incident, a rape, from multiple points of view to show how "reality" changes according to differing perspectives. The circumstances surrounding an East End rape are a case in point. For instance, barely a couple of weeks before the reported East End rape, a white woman in Coral Bay was robbed, bound and beaten in her home, then almost suffocated by taping her mouth and nose with duct tape. Two black men wearing masks were her assailants, she said. That incident barely made a blip on the local radar. The police treated it as humdrum, showed up late, didn't bother with forensics - just the way they have reacted to the spate of armed robberies on the island, unconcerned and useless. Nobody called it a hate crime.
Yet when a black woman claimed she had been raped by three white men half the Senate leaped onto the ferry to hold a meeting on St. John. Virgin Islanders were infuriated. Among the claims: the island was unsafe for native women and children because of white people; Coral Bay was an outpost of the klan and St. John another "Mississippi Burning," and the time was come to deal forcefully with white oppression.
Lost in the rhetoric was the fact that V.I. women and children are much more threatened by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting involving their own kith and kin than by a rampaging klansman. As far as rape goes, plenty of women have been raped in the Virgin Islands (open any newspaper) but does anyone remember a single instance where the rapist was a white continental? Not counting the "alleged" (as the police keep saying) East End rape.
To compare St. John with Mississippi back in the bad old days is dead wrong. It insults the memory of the genuine martyrs of the civil rights movement. Trust me on this one because I was there - I dropped out of college when I was 19 and spent most of 1965 working in Mississippi in the civil rights movement. I heard first hand the horror stories about murderous police and racist judges. I was privileged to meet the unsung heroes and heroines who laid their lives on the line and I saw with my own eyes - how hard to believe now - the signs on the bathrooms and water fountains in the county courthouse that said "Colored" and "White Only."
Here in the Virgin Islands virtually all the police, legislators, judges, commissioners (as well as the governor himself) are from these islands - and this has been the case for a long time. Case closed.
"Continentals are pushing Virgin Islanders off their land." That's one perspective. Another perspective might be: "Virgin Islanders freely sold off their birthright for the yankee dollar." But the most objective would be: "The laws of supply and demand are turning St. John into a high-priced commodity that only the wealthy can afford."
There's the root of our troubles.
Peter Muilenburg is the author of "Adrift On A Sea of Blue Light."
September 20, 2005
St. Croix group plans demonstration on St. John over rape investigation
From The VI Daily News:
"ST. CROIX - More than four dozen residents met at a Sion Farm ballpark on Sunday to plan an Oct.1 protest on St. John with the hope of pressuring police to find the suspects of a kidnapping and rape reported on that island in August.
Those who attended the meeting expressed dismay at what they see as the slow pace of the investigation and said the government must not let racial violence get a foothold in the territory. The group plans to march in St. John on Oct. 1, and some members said they will remain on the island until an arrest is made.
The protest stems from the reported kidnapping and rape of a woman on St. John on Aug. 30. Police have released little information in the case and have said that the FBI is heading up the case. The FBI is also investigating a number of other incidents described as hate crimes, including an assault, vandalism and several arsons."
The rest is here.
September 14, 2005
Lewis Reveals Little on Investigation into Hate Crimes
From the St. Thomas Source:
Sept. 13, 2005 - Police Commissioner Elton Lewis said at a press conference Tuesday that significant progress had been made in the investigation of alleged hate crimes on St. John. He also said that he expected the investigation to be concluded relatively soon, but he gave no timetable or specifics.
He concluded his comments at the police station in Frederiksted, "I urge the public not to allow rumor and innuendo to divide the community."
The rest is here. This is a pretty strange story and it seems to me that there are intimations that not all claims at this point are true.
September 13, 2005
Hawksnest Beach Sign
Here is the infamous misspelled sign from Hawksnest. The sign has been replaced. Photo courtesy of Tina Prins, Harrisburg, PA.
September 12, 2005
View of the Atlantic from Anegada
A view from Lavenda Breeze on Anegada, looking out over the Atlantic.
September 10, 2005
Harley Calls for Calm, Says Answers Are Coming
From the Source:
Sept. 9, 2005 – In the wake of St. John's recent racial tensions, island Administrator Julien Harley Friday called for calm and level-headedness. However, he said that he soon expects some answers from federal officials investigating the series of incidents that have inflamed St. John. "Hopefully, next week," he said. Harley said he sent out a press release Friday calling for calm to stop the innuendos and rumors that circulate like wildfire around St. John regarding the incidents. Additionally, he said that news about a possible Oct. 1 protest on St. John by people from St. Croix and St. Thomas helped convince him a press release was needed. Oct. 1 has its roots in the territory's history as contract day, the day when laborers were free to sign on with new employers if they so wished. In 1878, laborers' frustrations led to riots that resulted in the burning of many St. Croix estates. "What are they protesting?" Harley asked Friday afternoon.
I have the same question. Click here for the whole article.
You can't make this stuff up!
From the AP:
U.S. agents arrest Virgin Islands woman
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands -- U.S. agents arrested a Virgin Islands woman for allegedly posing as an American ambassador, occasionally getting body guard protection and even riding in motorcades, an official said Friday.
Elena Lin Yee was arrested Thursday and charged with impersonating a U.S. government official and misuse of official documents, said Christopher Tremann, a special agent with the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security.
He said Yee used fake credentials to pose as a U.S. ambassador to Grenada, the wife of a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a U.S. ambassador-at-large.
She convinced U.S. and foreign government officials to provide her with body guards, motorcades and access to events, Tremann said.
He said the State Department had investigated Lee in 1996 for using false credentials, but no charges were filed.
He said her arrest came after she allegedly tried to bypass U.S. customs by using State Department credentials. The credentials were authentic but Lee had not been entitled to them, he said.
By posing as a U.S. ambassador-at-large, Yee also briefly held a seat on the advisory board of the National Society of High School Scholars, said Delle Driskell, vice-president of the Atlanta-based organization, which provides scholarships to high school graduates.
She was released on $10,000 bail. Yee, a longtime resident of St. Thomas, the largest U.S. Virgin island, could face up to eight years in prison if convicted. She will be arraigned Sept. 21.
The Leland Sneed
The Leland Sneed is used to take cruise passengers over to St. John for the day, usually Trunk Bay. It is a pretty old ship.
Devil's Bay, The Baths, Virgin Gorda
A turbulent day on Devil's Bay.
September 09, 2005
Recent St. John Unrest
For those of you who have yet to hear we recently located to Florence, Italy (http://www.florence-journal.com/) after four and a half years in the Virgin Islands. Running Virgin-Islands-On-Line is still my number one business priority, and even though we are not "on the ground" we know that we will keep up via the web and by returning as often as we can (just like we did for the first 6 years of the site). The recent news out of St. John though has been a test of what kind of news you can get from the web and the feel you can get for a story that is unfolding thousands of miles away.
Anyway, after reading the Source and the Daily News, I finally got a couple of first hand opinions about the whole thing from some people there that have put the situation into more perspective for me (mainly, that it is a "mess" and that there are a lot of rumors and innuendos flying around). For everyone's sake it would be best that cooler heads prevail, and that this episode blows over. St. John is special to a lot of us for a lot of reasons. I never personally felt any "racial tensions" there as the press is so ready to label the recent goings on. Let's hope that the police and the FBI can make heads or tails of this situation and that a result that satisfies everyone comes about, without any more hate or violence.
September 06, 2005
U.S. Virgin Islands Airline Says French Ban On its Flights Unjustified
From the AP:
"Air St. Thomas was among six carriers on a blacklist released by the French civil aviation authority Sunday in an attempt to allay public fears about flying after a recent series of deadly crashes. Although all the airlines had been banned in recent years, France had never before made a blacklist public."