There Might Be Another Step to Take Before Beach Closures

A many enjoys an early morning swim at Magens Bay. Such simple pleasures are on hold due to Gov, Albert Bryan Jrs.. order closing the beaches. (Source file photo by Kelsey Nowakowski)
A many enjoys an early morning swim at Magens Bay. Such simple pleasures are on hold due to Gov, Albert Bryan Jrs.. order closing the beaches. (Source file photo by Kelsey Nowakowski)

As we watched the behaviors of ignorant, willful, completely self absorbed individuals ignoring the repeated pleas of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. to keep our distance, our greatest fear was that the many who have done as requested and who desperately need the stress relief of sun, salt water and some breathing room would suffer.

We fully support Gov. Albert Bryan’s good sense in pulling out all stops to prevent the territory from being overwhelmed by COVID-19. That we have had one death and a goodly amount of testing is a strong testament to his leadership.

Losing the fresh air, water and sunshine however, is likely to take a terrible toll on the already abused children and partners in the Virgin Islands. It could also increase suicides and other acts of violence. The stress from fear alone along with “staying home” is already being released on the vulnerable. It is only likely to get worse with this ban in place.

Coincidentally, an article in the New York Times today, “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide” provides powerful support for our contention that a beach ban could be an unnecessary and dangerous mistake.

For those without access to the Times, here is what the lede says:

“Movement restrictions aimed to stop the spread of the coronavirus may be making violence in homes more frequent, more severe and more dangerous.”

We think there is a much better solution. Post police officers in squad cars at the beaches. While we are aware of the shortage of officers – and while we do not pretend to be versed in public safety methodologies – it seems like the only way to avoid more of the family violence already rampant in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With many fewer people on the street and therefore a lesser need for patrolling elsewhere it seems feasible. Furthermore, the governor’s easing of the restrictions around retirees losing benefits if they work too many hours opens an opportunity for a ready force as well.

And then there’s the enforcement arms of Planning and Natural Resources, who he has already said will be called in to enforce the beach bans.

Make a concise, clear list of exactly what behaviors are unacceptable, and therefore under a state of emergency punishable by law and have those officers enforce those.

One assumes any pretension of enforcing a total ban of beach usage will require officers to be at the beach, where they should have been anyway for the last two weeks, will have the same result of curbing the willfully dangerous behavior of the few, without penalizing the many.

A list of exactly what will not be tolerated, i.e. exercise classes, music, people other than families with children congregating in groups larger than, say, four, must be published and widely circulated. Lack of clarity is the enemy always, but especially right now.

Backed up by the attorney general’s statement that “ those who willfully violate emergency executive orders and directives of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion during the declared state of emergency can face criminal consequences,” police can arrest, charge and/or fine those not adhering to the guidelines the governor has been stating for weeks.

Clear, specific guidelines blasted out there along with the presence of our women and men in blue we believe will be enough. The police have successfully broken up several scofflaw gatherings already. The gatherings would never form, if police were present at the beaches.

The governor’s swift and decisive actions have so far left us way ahead of other jurisdictions. We hope he will consider the possible solutions outlined above and anything else he and his Public Safety officials might think of before taking this drastic measure that will, without a doubt, result in far more calls to the police and put our families and citizens in far greater danger than a solitary walk on the beach.