Aug. 31, 2005 — More than 300 people came to a meeting Wednesday on St. John hoping to get answers from law enforcement officials about Tuesday's alleged rape of an East End, St. John woman. They went home with no concrete answers other than the fact that the incident is under investigation by federal and local officials.
Many in the community have called it a hate crime, although police have released no information to indicate it as such. However, the FBI has been called in to investigate the matter as a potential hate crime or civil rights violation.
Others noted that relations between St. John's black and white residents are at a crossroads. Early in the meeting, St. John resident Monique Matthias, who initially called for the meeting, suggested that the community's outrage would have happened at some point regardless, given the strained state of relations between some blacks and whites on St. John.
"This is a crucible for St. John. This is not happening in a vacuum. For years and years St. John has been complacent," Theodora Moorehead said.
The Rev. Charles Crespo, in a prayer that opened the park portion of the meeting, said the island was at a critical phase.
"We're scared. We're angry. We want to find a solution now," he said.
Moorehead spoke about the distrust many residents have for the police, a factor that keeps people from telling the police when they know something about a crime.
A pressing issue for the most vocal people at the meeting was whether the alleged rapist was white or black. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis refused to say.
However, Elsie Roberts Trotman, a former deputy police commissioner on St. John, said there was no legal prohibition against the police indicating the alleged perpetrator's race.
Earlier Lewis had said that there wasn't sufficient information to provide a description of the alleged rapist.
"But I want to assure you we are working on the case," he said.
He also cautioned people not to listen to or spread gossip. In response to a question from the audience about a particular person, Lewis said, "We have information you don't have." He said, "I know what you are talking about and you are wrong."
Jane Erickson, an FBI agent in charge of the investigation said that FBI and U.S. Justice Department policies prevent her from discussing the investigation's details because they don't want to taint possible witnesses.
The meeting started out at the Legislature building, which overflowed with people. Delegate Donna M. Christensen, who arranged for the federal and local law enforcement officials to come to St. John, then moved the meeting to Cruz Bay Park.
Many people asked for increased police presence in Coral Bay. Lewis said he was hampered by a shortage of police officers but said that a promised police station for Coral Bay was in the works. He also promised that officers would patrol the area.
Sen. Craig Barshinger pledged to get his colleagues to vote for increased funding for the police department so it could station officers in the area.
Responding to a suggestion from someone in the crowd that everyone who wasn't from St. John get on the 8 o'clock ferry and leave, Government House spokeswoman Rina Roebuck took her turn at the microphone. In an impassioned voice, Roebuck said she knew what it meant to be discriminated against, whether or not she was from St. John.
She said a "white man" put a gun to her head and told her "nigger, you don't belong here." She said the incident occurred on Peterborg, an upper middle class enclave on St. Thomas.
Roebuck's remarks did little to pacify the already angry crowd. Nor did the remarks of Iris Kern, director of The Safety Zone, a St. John shelter for battered and abused women. Kern said that while there's a sex crime committed every day in the Virgin Islands, she'd never seen such a public outcry like Wednesday's Cruz Bay meeting.
At times, a group of about 50 people who clustered together near the bandstand turned boisterous. Christensen and others worked hard to cool down those bent on creating a disturbance. Oftentimes the speakers voices were drowned out by the angry crowd.
"Do not take the law into your own hands," Christensen said in reply to some residents threats to seek justice on their own.
The meeting had its roots in a Tuesday meeting held by Christensen to discuss V.I. Water and Power Authority issues. When Tuesday's alleged rape came up, Christensen promised to bring in law enforcement officials to provide answers.
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