Silhouetted by flashing lights under the startlingly picturesque, darkening sky, police, pastors, sorority sisters, the district victim advocate and two or three Bovoni Housing Community residents wove through the pale, nondescript, high-rise apartment buildings coming full circle back to the dusty, vacant playground, calling out through a loud speaker for a demonstration of solidarity.
Residents shuttered themselves behind closed doors and windows the scent of food cooking wafting from the slats between the aluminum, partially opened jalousie windows – suggested people were at home.
In organizing the event, Capt. Sandra Colbourne of the V.I. Police Department had hoped to foster the spirit of compassion and charity in the days before the Thanksgiving holiday. In a text sent prior to the march she said it was called “to restore the bridges of brotherly and sisterly love, where we as neighbors once cared for one another.”
Pastor Fitzroy Brooks of V.I. Christian Ministries said when he was growing up and someone called your name, “you knew you would get either a beating, or a meal.” Either way, you knew someone cared about you.
“Today,” he said, “there are not a lot of holders,” meaning people to hold the ladder for the next generations, so they don’t have to climb it alone without help.
Brooks and pastor Samuel Weeks of Paradise Christian Ministries, took turns with a megaphone encouraging residents to join the walkers.
“Stop the violence; increase the peace,” Weekes chanted as he walked along with the small group next to the police car that led the procession.
Walking with her two sons, aged 6 and 7, a Bovoni resident who identified herself only as Wendy, said she was walking for something to do. But she also said, she feared for the safety of her sons, including a 10-year-old who was not with her.
“I often bring them in from playing early before the gun shots start.”
The poor turnout was not due to lack of notification, according to Weekes. In a phone interview Wednesday he said, “We had posters all over the island from Bordeaux, east.” He also said the organizers had gotten radio air time. However, he said, one of the community’s major gatekeepers had a death in the family just before the event
“They were in mourning,” he said.
The community has been steeped in mourning in the last few months. It lost two members in October; one to suicide, the other to gun violence.
Weekes said the matriarch gatekeeper, who makes meals for community members at a moment’s notice and who, he said, “is not afraid,” had about 20 people ready to join the peace march, when they found out about the death.
Desiree Labertis, St. Thomas-St. John VIPD victim advocate, said the organizers had not gotten the hoped-for help from inside the community. Weekes echoed that, saying, “it’s clear we need to get the word out in the community itself.”
He also said people don’t trust the police, adding that “it is getting better though.”
Apparently, some do, however.
As the group, which had originally intended to walk all the way to the Thomasville, at least a mile away, turned back well short of the mark, a grey- bearded man bent slight over a wooden cane, making his way up the hill, toward the community, said to no one in particular as the walkers passed him, “When I walk, I walk alone,” he said. “You all have the police with you.”