Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. spoke to local non-profit groups attending the first day of the Non-Profits Violence Prevention Summit on Tuesday at the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas and told them the community needs to change its mindset to successfully eradicate gun violence in the territory.
The summit — which will continue on Wednesday at the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Croix – is part of the university’s Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning (UVICELL) and is intended to strengthen the critical partnership between the non-profit community and government agencies to help eliminate violence in the V.I.
The governor noted that the Virgin Islands has the fourth-highest incarceration rate per capita in the United States, but arresting people and putting them in jail will not solve the problem of gun violence, and instead, the community has to find ways to engage youth. He said that despite not having anywhere in the Virgin Islands where someone can walk into a store and buy a gun has not deterred the proliferation of weapons in the territory and has instilled residents with the feeling that they have to arm themselves for their own protection.
“We have two separate societies, and they’re being socialized and indoctrinated differently,” he said, referring to the criminal element terrorizing the community. “We need your help in in creating a different type of socialization for our community, into giving our young people a sense of belonging. They don’t feel like they belong.”
Bryan urged the non-profit organizations to join the government in trying to eradicate gun violence and bring hope and inspiration back to the young people. He said that residents have to get rid of the mentality that things don’t change or that the government does not have the resources or capability to eliminate gun violence.
“This is a different time in the Virgin Islands. This is a time of real opportunity, but if we only see misery and all of the problems of the past, it will blind us to the opportunities that shine bright in our future. We have to make sure that we own this society and that there’s only about less than 1 percent of the people in this community wreaking havoc on us.”
“The only way we’re going to do this is to change the mindset of the young people and the parents and how they view the community,” the governor said.
Following his address, there was a panel discussion about gun violence with Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy, V.I. Police Commissioner Designee Trevor Velinor, Law Enforcement Planning Commission Director Ray Martinez, Human Services Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez, Attorney General Denise George, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion and Corrections Bureau Director Wynnie Testamark.