Sept. 9, 2005 In the wake of St. John's recent racial tensions, island Administrator Julien Harley Friday called for calm and level-headedness.
However, he said that he soon expects some answers from federal officials investigating the series of incidents that have inflamed St. John.
"Hopefully, next week," he said.
Harley said he sent out a press release Friday calling for calm to stop the innuendos and rumors that circulate like wildfire around St. John regarding the incidents.
Additionally, he said that news about a possible Oct. 1 protest on St. John by people from St. Croix and St. Thomas helped convince him a press release was needed. Oct. 1 has its roots in the territory's history as contract day, the day when laborers were free to sign on with new employers if they so wished. In 1878, laborers' frustrations led to riots that resulted in the burning of many St. Croix estates.
"What are they protesting?" Harley asked Friday afternoon.
He said he will meet over the weekend with one of the St. Croix people involved in organizing the apparent protest by non-St. John residents to find out what they have planned. He declined to name that person.
"I don't want any group to come here and start destroying things," he said.
He said he didn't think anyone from outside St. John who planned to protest realized the harm they would do to the island.
However, many St. John people do know what could happen.
"If we have more violence on St. John, it's going to effect everybody. People will stop coming and the entire economy will collapse," a white businesswoman said, echoing thoughts expressed by many black and white St. John residents since recent tensions began to bubble over.
The woman, who has lived on St. John for several decades, did not want to be identified.
Randolph "Pimpi" Thomas, a black businessman with a water delivery business, said that he wasn't worried from a business perspective, but was concerned that the those who did the crimes wouldn't be found.
Harley said St. John should be allowed to solve its own problems without outside intruders.
He said the situation is already volatile and outside influences will escalate the situation.
He said that most of the buildings in downtown Cruz Bay are "owned by black people." He said that for someone to destroy them as happened in the Sept. 2 fire at Meada's Mall, owned by the native Moorehead-Keating family, was misguided. (See
"Meada's Mall Fire Likely Sparked by Racial Tensions").
He said the incidents that appear to be sparked by racial tensions remain under investigation. In order for the investigations to be handled in a professional manner, Harley said, the investigators must draw conclusions based on concrete information, not hearsay and innuendo.
He said he recently met with the island's leadership to address some of the miscommunication and misinformation that caused tensions to rise.
"All of us on St. John have a vested interest in seeing this island prosper and develop, and any negative patterns of behavior that we set will only hinder our progress as a people," Harley said.
He called on residents to work together to resolve the issues, including racism, that separate island residents. However, he said it must be done in a "law-abiding, forthright manner that does not diminish us as people."
St. John's racial tensions began to come to the forefront when on June 20 someone wrote racial epithets on Esther and Jerry Frett's car parked at their East End home. The, on Aug. 20, Frett was allegedly raped near her home.
Tension rose further at a meeting Aug. 29 called to discuss V.I. Water and Power Authority issues and at a meeting Aug. 30 where federal and local law enforcement officials refused to comment on the specifics of their investigations on the racial epithet incident and the alleged rape.(See "Angry St. Johnians Eager for Answers in Alleged Rape Case").
Harley, who was in Anchorage, Alaska attending a conference, was not present at the Aug. 29 and Aug. 30 meetings.
Then, early on Sept. 1, someone set Bob Sells Jeep on fire in front of his Close Reach Imports store at Meada's Mall in Cruz Bay. On Sept. 2, the store went up in flames. Arson is suspected in both cases.
Frett, until June, rented the store upstairs from Close Reach Imports for her House of Dolls. Following numerous confrontations between the two, Sells was arrested June 3 for allegedly assaulting Frett. That case is still pending.
Frett is black and Sells is white.
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