A vigil outside the St. Thomas Legislative building Tuesday honored and remembered those lost to gun violence in the territory, to recognize Gun Violence Awareness Month.
The event was organized by Senator Myron Jackson in collaboration with the UVI Center for the Study of Spirituality and Professionalism.
The ceremony was limited to 50 people and attendees had their temperatures taken at the gate to enter the Legislative grounds.
Gun Violence Awareness Month was first observed in New York in 2013 and several other states have since joined in. Resolutions to make it a national observance have been presented in Congress the last three years but have not yet passed.
The designation was established to bring attention to the deaths and injuries caused by gunfire, to educate the public and amplify the voices of survivors.
Throughout the night the names of more than 500 gun violence victims – people who died by gunfire in the territory since 1982 – were read. Luminaria – candles glowing inside a paper bag weighted with sand – lit up the night, recalling the souls that were snuffed out by guns.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has one of the highest murder rates in the world, according to a booklet organizers gave out at the event.
“It takes a community to solve a community pandemic,” Jackson said about gun violence.
Representatives from community organizations such as The Family Resource Center, Mothers Against Gun Violence, Community and Police Association and UVI Student Government took part.
Other senators in attendance included Dwayne DeGraff, Stedman Hodge Jr. and Athneil Thomas.
In his closing remarks, Jackson said he was deeply moved by the event and that the lives lost to gun violence are not forgotten.
Jackson has proposed a bill to create an office for Gun Violence Prevention as a way to bring government and non-government agencies together to lower gun violence in the territory. While senators agree with the intent of the bill and preventing gun violence, some don’t agree that a new office is the way to reach that solution. Right now, the Committee of Rules and Judiciary Committee is split over the bill.
Another measure being worked on in the Senate is a bill suggested by the Community and Police Association with the purpose of limiting the opportunity to commit a crime and get away with it. Bruce Flamon, president of the organization, said his main focus right now is street security systems that could catch footage of gun violence that leads to more convictions. The bill would provide business owners and homeowners with cameras facing the street, a tax incentive to be part of a grid that would allow the footage to be accessed if there was a crime in the area.