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Reflections of an Evolving Elder: V.I. Racism May Look Different, But Results are the Same

Reflections of an Evolving Elder: V.I. Racism May Look Different But the Results are the Same

Shaun A. Pennington

“Racist: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. Antiracist: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.” Ibram X. Kendi from “How to be an Antiracist”

I attended the march on St. Thomas waterfront Saturday morning. It was especially wonderful to see so many young people. The vast majority would fit into that category. Carrying signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” and other slogans drawn from the civil rights and deadly racism struggles continuing on the U.S. mainland, they were ebullient and hopeful.

But the sign that struck my heart most is pictured here for your view.

A sign at Saturday's rally in St. Thomas makes a clear point. (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)
A sign at Saturday’s rally in St. Thomas makes a clear point. (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)
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In case you cannot make out the words it reads:

– 23 lives were lost to gun violence in the V.I. so far this year;
– The average murder victim is a 27-year old man found dead in the streets with multiple gun wounds and no explanation;
– Gang related retaliation or feud killings is a major reason for the violence;
– Childhood trauma leads to violence;
– Early intervention is key;
– Support early learning programs and literacy programs;
– Support community based organization and programs that make a difference;
– Support higher learning institutions and trade schools.

For me that says it all.

I will happily admit to being enraged last fall upon learning that politicians and academics were floating the idea of creating an office of gun violence prevention under the governor’s office.

All of the solutions listed above and then some, we already have in our community, or they are available to us.

I sat in the Senate Chambers weeks after Bill No. 33-0126 was floated at a sparsely attended meeting at the University of the Virgin Islands, and silently applauded when Commissioner of the Office of Management and Budget Jennifer O’Neal called BS first on the suggestion that this ludicrous, pointless and unnecessary gravy train would cost $700,000. She said it would cost at least $1.5 million and added, we didn’t need another office. She said the Law Enforcement Planning Commission was the place that planning already takes place and where grants are written to pay for the agencies we already have that only lack the funding and political will to stem the tide of the deaths.

A glance at the four-page bill easily reveals that all the suggestions require a willing community, not another layer of bureaucracy. Every single action item in the bill is being done or already has been done in the community. Here’s the salary sucking list of the personnel required by the bill to carry out what is already being done – often for free.

“Among the staff of the Virgin Islands Office of Gun Violence Prevention shall be an Executive Director, District Directors, Survivor Engagement Specialists, Community Engagement Coordinators, Analysts, an Office Manager, and Violence Interrupters. The Governor shall appoint the Executive Director, who shall report directly to the Governor.”

After that Senate hearing, the bill seemed to disappear. I heaved a sigh of relief along with most of the activist people I am privileged to hang out with, and we moved on.

Then, I was blindsided a few months ago when it surfaced again.

This bill is insulting and demoralizing to the people who are losing family members and loved ones to the violence in our community. It is insulting to the teachers and principals of our schools who struggle daily to keep gang members from recruiting on what should be hallowed ground. One principal told me the gangs start luring even the third graders.

It is demeaning and insulting to the people who have brought solutions to the table and even seen them implemented and beginning to make a difference, only to be dismissed for the latest and greatest new self-interested idea.

I am standing with the greatest minds and voices being heard right now stateside – Black minds – on this.

The system stinks. It needs to be dismantled. It is beyond fixing.

Money is not going to solve the problem, though $1.5 million could fund or bolster five or six of our already existing non-profit organizations whose missions are exactly what this bill calls for.

We have scores of organizations proving their worth day in and day out with real support for survivors of gun violence, mental health services, early childhood and vocational training … the list goes on. We have our solutions. We just don’t fund them. And in some cases, we don’t even want them to work.

It takes an oppressed population to support the capitalist system that has brought us to this point.

In his book, “Savage Inequalities; Children in American’s Schools” author Jonathan Kozol was interviewing a third-grader in the South Bronx, one of the most beleaguered and forgotten neighborhoods in the country.

“Why is it,” asked the child, “that rich people have to give parties to raise money for us. Why don’t they just give us the money?”

Why is it that we would even think about creating an office with a bunch of high paying government jobs – in a community that has long given up any belief that the “government” is functional or interested in the well being of the average citizen?

If Ibram X. Kendi is right – it is racism, based upon the belief that some among us just aren’t worth saving – have no value. They are lives that don’t matter to us.

How dare I say that? Inaction has led to 863 dead bodies in our community as of this writing since the Source began keeping statistics in 1999. Half of our children live in poverty. We do not keep statistics on anything, much less the survivors of violence. We blame the victims. We give lip service to our concern for our youth even as we send them to mold-ridden, decrepit schools where anyone in authority is allowed to beat them, as long as they don’t kill them. We tell them they are rotten and worthless and then prove it by offering them teachers who tell them the same thing. We call it “our culture,” and blame parents that they don’t have for not giving them support – rather than becoming true mentors and supporting programs that provide them with willing ears and trauma counseling. More than 80 percent of our children live in single-parent households, and more than 10 percent don’t live with a parent at all.

None of this has gotten measurably better, and much has gotten worse in the last 20 years.

Our standards for police officers have been lowered and, despite claims they have been trained, many cannot absorb the training because they cannot or will not read or write. All this as we continue to eschew universal early education, and see no value in adding life skills to the curriculum because unions protect inferior personnel who are just tapping their toes until they can retire.

This is inaction at its finest.

It will be the action we take in our own village right now at this potential turning point – that will finally determine what we are.

The good news, Kendi says is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. It is up to us.

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