Soraya Diase Coffelt: ‘The People Are Crying Out for Action’ on Gang Violence

As an attorney and former judge, I have seen the negative effects that gang related violence has had on our young men in particular and on our community as a whole. Over the past two weeks, we have experienced an escalated number of shootings, including drive-by shootings, and killings. Today, there was yet another shooting and killing on St. Thomas.

There is no doubt that we are seeing the repercussions of the growing influence of gangs. On Feb. 1, 2015, the senseless killing of Lakeel Wade took place in the Hospital Ground area of St. Thomas. Lakeel was featured in the 2010 documentary entitled "Gangs in Paradise" when he was 19 years old and serving a five-year sentence at the Golden Grove Correctional Facility on St. Croix. After being released from jail, he apparently went right back to being involved with a gang, resulting in his death. Wade’s unnamed male companion that day also suffered gunshot wounds but survived.

On Feb. 6, there was a drive-by shooting in the late afternoon on St. Thomas, in which two men suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

On Feb. 9 in the area of Eulalie Rivera Elementary School on St. Croix, another man was found dead as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. It was reported that an AK-47 was found on the scene. This is the same area known for gang violence that appeared in the "Gangs in Paradise" documentary.

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Amidst all this growing violence is a deafening silence surrounding what our government is planning to do to combat it. Despite many attempts over the past years, our Legislature has yet to adopt any form of anti-gang legislation. This is imperative. How many of our young men and others have to die before we undertake the necessary prevention, prosecution, and rehabilitation steps to fight gang violence?

It is critical that our government officials undertake a collaborative effort to do so with an understanding that gangs exist here. The people are crying out for action.

Soraya Diase Coffelt is a Virgin Islands longtime attorney and former Superior Court judge who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014. In December she was appointed attorney general by Gov. Kenneth Mapp but resigned after two weeks, claiming that the governor was using the Department of Justice as his personal law firm and allowing partisan politics to interfere with the running of the department.

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