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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 12, 2024


Is Garden Street, home to All Saints Cathedral School, to become solely known as the new red light district of St. Thomas? It seems well on its way to winning this title of dubious distinction.
On March 23, I heard All Saints student Bobby King give an impassioned speech before the members of the Senate Youth and Human Services Committee at a hearing designed to elicit youths' comments on what they want to see happen to improve their lives and those of the community.
Bobby graphically described his feelings at sitting in class the day before and hearing gunshots ringing out a mere block and a half away. The victim, a 19-year-old who was shot four times, according to media reports, was uncooperative when asked to name the shooter. Bobby went on to implore the senators to take strong action before a student is caught in the gunfire. He spoke of the unfairness of his school having to move out to the "country" to get away from it all.
Early Monday morning, April 30, Garden Street was the host to the murder of yet another young man, following the execution-style murder five days earlier of a 22-year-old man whose body was found in a car on Crown Mountain. The Garden Street killing occurred a block away from All Saints school and a little up the street from the newest bar and restaurant on the street.
Bobby King asked at the hearing, and I ask, too: When will action occur on Garden Street, or on St. Thomas for that matter, to stem this tide? Murder and violence seem the order of the day. We continue to sit back and lose our young men one by one. We continue, while this happens, to fight and quibble about every ridiculously unimportant issue of the day as if ours were a community listed as one of the five best places in the nation to live.
Carnival 2001 was a safe one for all by all accounts. However, I woke up on the Monday morning after it to news of the Garden Street murder, a stabbing on the new high-speed ferry in an argument over a seat on the boat (really!) and gunshots in the vicinity of the Jam Band boat ride (once again) disembarkation area. While I commend all who strove to keep Carnival incident free, we live here all year 'round, and the violence just seems to keep on coming. We have got to be able to find a way to stop or reduce it.
The Garden Street area used to be quiet, respectable and middle-class neighborhood, with the Ebbesen family, Rabbi Sasso and his family, the Cancryns, the DeCastros, the Melchiors and others forming a stable community. What seems now to be taking full root is a series of bars, liquor stores, nightclubs and places of business that appear to cater to those seeking late-night red-light type action.
We have laws on the books that increase the penalties for those convicted of selling controlled substances if they do so within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, universities, beaches, etc. I know liquor sales are legal (what laws govern strip clubs?) and those of controlled substances are not, but I still believe that there are areas where they cannot peacefully coexist, such as those described in the previously mentioned law.
Are there laws governing how close to a school liquor shops that appear to double as bars with full sidewalk hangout activity and bars/restaurants that might be doubling as red-light type places can operate? If not, then some need to be put on the books, and fast. If there are laws, who monitors their enforcement?
The children who attend All Saints — and my child, too, I might add — have to walk this street daily and could very well be caught in gunfire. They deserve better. All of our Virgin Islands children deserve better. We are supposed to be their protectors.
However, even if there were no gunfire issue, do we really want our children walking through the kind of environment that is produced by these types of businesses and the clientele they attract? Take a drive or walk down what was a street with decent people living on it years ago, and see the kinds of people now hanging out outside the liquor store, bars and "the well." Is this what we want for our children? For our community?
I join Bobby King, who had the guts and concern to ask: When will a change occur? After a student is killed? Let us all hope that he is not right on the money!

Editor's note: Catherine L. Mills of St. Thomas, a former Human Services commissioner, holds a master's degree in social work.
May 2, 2001

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