More than 250 diverse people from throughout the Virgin Islands gathered on St. John on October 1 for the Virgin Islands Unity Rally and Peace March, an event prompted by perceived inaction by local and federal officials investigating a series of incidents and allegations, some of which have been labeled possible hate crimes. The event commenced on Saturday morning, October 1, with a peace march through Cruz Bay where participants carried signs promoting peace and justice such as Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and Zero tolerance for racism, domestic abuse, police inaction and ineffective government.
Chanting for Justice
The marchers, holding signs and chanting for justice, wound their way back to Winston Wells Ball Field where a series of speakers, spiritual leaders, music, informational booths, delicious food and refreshing drinks awaited them.
We are going to be unified together, even though we are separated by water today we are making history, said Lorelei Monsanto, who organized the St. John portion of the event, which was merged with agendas from organizers of the off-island groups.
We will remember this day, but hard work is still ahead of us, Monsanto said. This has just begun; we have to move forward.
Seeking Similar Goals
Black and white, young and old came together in support of the event, expressing different opinions while seeking similar goals justice and unity.
It is good to see a good cross section of the different island communities on St. John it reaffirms that St. John is still Love City and that the issues that threatened to divide it will be overcome, said Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen. I think the turnout is good, everyone here supports the goals of the march justice and unity.
Del. Christensen said she wished officials had released statements providing closure to the cases still under investigation but said a complete and thorough investigation is the most important priority.
We were perhaps expecting too much too soon above anything else, we want officials to do a thorough investigation, said Del. Christensen, adding that she was confident the results of the investigation would be made public. But the march is about more than that, it is about issues that have been under the surface for a long time, said Del. Christensen. And I think something really needed will come out of this process a better relationship between the community and the police.
However, many speakers and members of the audience were not so patient, demanding immediate answers from officials.
It is a historic day but we not forget we are here for a reason, said Gonzalo Rivera, executive director of We the People for Justice. We the People for Justice are here to demand answers to what occurred here on St. John. We the People for Justice is not accepting FBI and VIPDs statements that the investigation is still ongoing, according to the executive director.
We want justice and we want it now, said Rivera, who said he, as well as others from around the territory, will relocate to St. John until justice is served.
Dont tell me that you cant tell me anything about what occurred on St. John we want answers and we demand them now, Rivera said.
St. Croix radio personality Mario Moorhead said Crucians came over as a big sister to protect their little sister, St. John. We are here for justice and until we get justice, we will shut down Cruz Bay, said Moor-head. We are not leaving until we heal the bruises on our little sister.
Moorhead indicated more people from St. Croix would be coming throughout the week of future planned events and expressed special thanks to Senator Celestino White for his assistance in securing a charter boat to transport Crucians between the two islands.
Victim Speaks Out
Esther Frett, the victim of the several alleged hate crimes under investigation, also spoke to the crowd of several hundred at the Cruz Bay event.
The incidents began in early June when Frett reported an assault by a neighboring white business owner. In the same month, she and her husband reported they were targets of racial graffiti. On August 30, she reported she was raped on the islands East End.
Frett thanked the crowd for their continuing support.
Thank you for coming, thank you for your love and concern, said Frett, asking women of color to stand up and speak out against injustice. I am standing tall before you with my head held high.
Federal and local law enforcement officials were in full force throughout the weekend to ensure the gatherings remained peaceful.
We have adequate coverage, said VIPD Territorial Chief Novelle Francis, adding that police presence would be beefed up throughout the island.
We certainly expected more people but it seems to be a good composite of representatives from the community, said Francis. They requested a peaceful march demonstration and we granted it, and we want to ensure it stays peaceful. Numerous booths lined the ball field, where information about community organizations, HIV/ AIDS, sexual assault, voting and religion, were readily available.
Participants in the event represented diverse aspects of the community, but unified for a common goal. Im here because this is my home I think the turnout is wonderful this is what St. John is all about, said Cid Hamling, a local business woman.
I think its important that we come together, it would be good if we could do this once a year, said Laurel Hewitt-Sewer, while serving food. We came together in the name of peace, unity and justice you cant come together for a better cause.
Saturdays peace rally was the first event in a stream of activities planned during the week.