Op-Ed: Cedric Henry, the Epidemic and the Cure

Cedric Henry (Submitted photo)
Cedric Henry (Submitted photo)

I did not know Cedric Henry who was killed on St. Thomas a month ago. But, in reading about him in The Source, I realized that I did know him. We all know Cedric Henry(s). They are the people who you appreciate for their spirit, their generosity or some special quality they possess. But we never appreciate them enough until they are not there. That is when you realize that there is now a hole that won’t be filled.

By all accounts, Cedric was one of those people.

Cedric Henry died of a disease. That disease is violence, one of those maladies that doesn’t give you any time to prepare for the person’s death, as you can with old age or some long-term illness. Thus, the profound emotional impact when someone like Cedric, young, talented, a good person, dies a violent death.

If violence is a disease and a huge public health issue, the Virgin Islands is – and has for years – been experiencing an epidemic. It is an epidemic with enormous – mostly uncalculated – human, dollar and social costs. Those costs include not only the deaths, but also the maimed and thwarted lives and vast dollar costs of survivors of violence.

Possibly the greatest cost is social, when people become so accustomed to high levels of violence that they change the way they live, or retreat into the dehumanizing indifference that goes with “it’s OK because they’re killing each other.” Whoever “they” are, and whatever “they” have done, they are fellow human beings, with value and often with a story that goes a long way toward explaining how they became “they,” the “others.”

By becoming accustomed to these high levels of violence, many people miss the point that this is not inescapable or normal. There are proven ways for dramatically reducing these levels of violence and building – more accurately, rebuilding – peaceful communities. And, by taking these proven actions, assuring that the next Cedric Henry, along with many others, will not have their lives cut short or damaged by violence.

Given the fact that models, strategies and practices for producing these dramatic reductions are known, the challenge becomes planning, building community support and effective execution of a plan. And here comes the rub.

Almost six years ago, Virgin Islands community leaders came together to create a plan, adopting strategies, approaches and tools that have been proven to work in places with conditions similar to the territory’s. Everyone felt that the planning session was a great success, both substantively and in producing community commitment.

So, what happened? In the classic movie “Cool Hand Luke,” when Luke is caught after his umpteenth escape attempt from a prison camp in the Deep South, he is beaten and thrown into a hole. The warden looks down in the hole at Luke and says, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” In the case of the Practice Peace plan, you could say, “What we have here is failure to execute.” The strategies and plans that were developed were never implemented.

That is the bad news. The good news is that these plans, now five plus years old, are as relevant and valuable as ever. In some ways, they are even more valuable because the strategies have been refined based on successful experience in multiple communities. They are now clearly “evidence based” and not “aspirational.”

Cedric’s tragic death and the life that he led can be honored by linking an emotional commitment to the discipline of getting things done, to thoughtful execution of already completed plans. Through that effort, communities can be transformed, and the life chances of large numbers of Virgin Islanders, most, but not all, young men and women, can be greatly improved.

And, in the end, many Virgin Islanders will be able to proudly say, “I was a part of that.” And also say to those who have thought that it’s OK that “they’re killing each other,” “See, you were wrong,” and, in the process, help them save their own souls.

January 8, 2020

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