I do what I do…I am who I am because I fight everyday for what I believe in most!
In December 2010, my brother was taken from me in a murder that remains unsolved to this day. His two children—deprived of their father.
My experience is far from isolated. That same year, the Virgin Islands had one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the world.
In the backdrop of paradise lies a very violent reality. And the extent of this injustice bleeds into the homes and families of far too many in the Virgin Islands. As citizens, and furthermore, as government officials, we all need to inherit the indignity of crime in order to protect what’s most important to us.
We need to encourage organizations like Crime Stoppers USVI, which allows citizens to participate first-hand without fear of retribution. Their work has led to 100’s of arrests and over $300,000 in seized drugs and property. By allowing citizens to provide tips anonymously, and rewarding them for doing so, this encourages more people to take a stand against as crime.
And with the capability of text messaging literally at our fingertips, it’s irrational not to have a text message enabled 911-system in place. But if average citizens step up to the plate to combat crime, we need to step up further as their representatives.
There is no higher priority of a government than to protect its citizens. And the VI government has failed at that task. It’s time to try something, anything and everything to mitigate crime. The best solution is to prevent it.
We need to stop firearms, which are the leading cause homicides in the VI, before they reach our shores. Since the VI doesn’t manufacture guns, they must be getting in somewhere! We need to step up patrols on the borders of our Islands to prevent criminals from slipping unnoticed onto any random shore with weapons that will harm our loved ones. And we need to do more thorough inspections at our ports, utilizing technology to detect weapons.
We need to put Islanders back to work in order to deprive them of the sense of hopelessness that spawns an unsettling trend of burglaries, robberies, assaults and cases of domestic violence.
And when crimes do unfortunately occur, we need to strengthen our effectiveness in solving them. Our ability to solve murders is dismally low. This is no surprise since we don’t even have the facilities to conduct the analysis. Most of the 50 States have publically funded forensics facilities. Yet, the Virgin Islands must outsource this critical component of law enforcement to Florida, where the dignity of our friends and family members gets shuffled to the back of the line.
Clearly, we haven’t done everything within our means to combat the scourge of crime.
Think, for a second, about your home, all of your possessions, and most importantly, about your loved ones. Now imagine that those things were taken away from you. Let the sense of outrage and victimization and consume you now while you still have an opportunity to protect all that you treasure.
Like you, I cringe every time I hear the words “sin tax” and “economic crisis.” For “experts” and our leaders, they’ve become crutches to throw in speeches and interviews. For the average citizen, these words cause apprehension every time they go to make a purchase, pay a debt or dodge a phone call from a creditor.
As a government, we need to figure out how to generate revenue besides just he
aping taxes on an already overburdened working class. That way, we can put service minded people back to work in our government. During a time of uncertainty, the government must lead all sectors by creating jobs in its own ranks
, not slashing them. Doing so demonstrates that the government itself is betting against the economy and its people.
In our private sector, we must continue to lure businesses to the VI, but we must also insist that they put Virgin Islanders back to work above all. The tax incentives used to attract these businesses must be reviewed periodically to make sure that their existence in the USVI provides a mutual benefit for the citizens that support it.
When people can’t afford to feed, shelter and clothe their families, desperation sets in and instability rises. Let’s do something before the next step in the process is fully realized.
Our greatest priority as legislators should be to serve those who can’t even vote yet: our children. Yet our next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs lag behind the rest of the country in education.
In the Virgin Islands, barely a third of 5th graders scored ‘proficient’ in reading. The proficiency gap grows more disparate in middle school. Just over 1 in 5 students in grade seven met proficiency standards. By the time they arrive at higher education, less than 1 in 10 students move on to achieve bachelor’s degrees.
A report released by the St. Croix Foundation concluded that our schools are failing to provide the proper
infrastructure needs to our students, such as handicapped-accessible bathrooms and walls scrubbed of graffiti. The report speculated that our government passed that responsibility along to private sector donors.
The members of the private sector who step up in taking responsibility for our children’s collective welfare shouldn’t be relegated to scrubbing bathrooms. They should be more focused on forging partnerships with students who need the hope of a future. They need to be focused on funding programs that elevate the intellect of our society and teach our students tangible skills that translate into jobs someday.
These are the same children that will take care of us one day, not too far in the future. These same children will lead our government, industries, and businesses. They’ll also be the same people who teach the next generation of students. But if our children can’t read, how can they ever lead?
Alma Francis Heyliger
Special Election for the 33rd Legislature