Faith-based leaders and advocates against gun violence will gather to light candles in memory of lives lost to firearms during a community vigil in commemoration of Gun Violence Awareness Month. The event will be held at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 30, on the Capitol Grounds of the Legislature. Participants are encouraged to wear white or orange, the official color associated with the observance, which is held annually during June. Masks and social distance are urged as a precaution for COVID-19. The event will also be live streamed via www.legvi.org and www.facebook.com/USVILegislature for those who decide to attend remotely.
The activities, organized by the Office of Sen. Myron D. Jackson, in collaboration with the UVI Center for the Study of Spirituality and Professionalism and filmmaker Peter Bailey of NiteCap Media, are meant to bring attention to gun deaths and injuries in the Virgin Islands.
“Our territory has been in crisis for quite some time,” the senator said. “The compounded loss of life to gun violence over so many decades can easily desensitize us to the trauma we experience in a small community. The event is meant to acknowledge and honor their lives and show that they matter.”
The Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) has confirmed 24 murders this year to date. The territory has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, ranked fourth by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and third in the world, right behind El Salvador and Honduras, according to the World Population Review’s per capita homicide rate.
These unsettling figures underscore national statistics. Daily, more than 100 Americans are killed by gun violence. Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered by guns than people in other high-income countries. And, the annual cost of gun violence is $229 billion across the country, according to the Giffords Law Center.
National Gun Violence Awareness Day was established in 2013, following the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton who was gunned down in Chicago a week after performing at President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade. The initial observance was held on June 2, 2013, with activities held across the states. New York was the first state to extend the recognition to a month, with Hollywood icon Spike Lee serving as the face of activities, bringing supporters together to rally against an increased level of crime committed through use of firearms. Senator Jackson is advocating for Bill No. 33-0126 to establish an Office of Gun Violence Prevention in the Virgin Islands.
Persons in the community who would like to share names of their loved ones or offer a prayer, poem, song or artwork at the observance, can call the office at 693-3519.