Blood is saturating our streets and bullet-ridden bodies are filling our cemeteries. And before we can mourn one life –another is quickly taken. The recent murder in broad daylight of two young men hard-at work in their family business removing waste in the Tutu community is tragic. These two cousins 29-year-old Rique Ashby and 14-year-old Aaron Ashby will never reach their full potential and their family will never be the same.
This horrific incident brought back painful memories. The murder of my friend Kadeem Leonard when he was barely out of high school……the traumatic phone call that jolted me out of my sleep alerting me that my brother had been shot multiple times…..the recent murder of my cousin Elon Frett, his son now fatherless……and the murder of his father policeman Ariel Frett years earlier. The list goes on and many Virgin Islanders can evoke similar, if not darker, memories.
The average homicide victim in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is a young man in his 20s who is killed by a firearm. A recent study looking at data between 1999-2014 showed an average of 37.4 homicides per 100,000 residents per year in the USVI. This is an alarmingly high rate when compared to other Caribbean Islands or cities in the U.S. And the bloodshed is clearly not slowing down with 27 homicides since the start of 2020. This is the violent reality of life in America’s Paradise.
What are we going to do about gun violence? What are you going to do about gun violence?
As a Virgin Islander and primary care doctor, I see this as a public health crisis. There is an African proverb that says, “When the roots of a tree begin to decay, it spreads to the branches.” The problem of gun violence in our community has to be addressed starting with the socio-economic root issues, while also focusing on low hanging fruit.
The Center for Disease Control suggests a socio-ecological approach to violence prevention that aims at addressing issues on the individual, interpersonal, community, and societal levels. In other words, individuals, families, neighborhoods, schools, businesses, community organizations, churches, government agencies and lawmakers will ALL need to play a collaborative role if we are to make headway on gun violence prevention.
To be clear, this work will take the entire village. It not only requires real change within ourselves, homes, and neighborhoods, but also requires effective leadership both from the government and grassroots organizations. This may sound overwhelming or lofty, but it can be done. It may look different for you or your organization, but consider any of the following actionable steps:
Individual and Interpersonal Actions
Community Action & Governmental Action
This list is by no means exhaustive or prescriptive, it’s meant to start a conversation and spur action. Start sharing stories, resources, ideas, and personal steps you will take to end violence in the USVI using the hashtags #DoingOurPartUSVI and #EndGunViolenceUSVI.
Tell us— what are you going to do?
Submitted by: Alani Gregory, MD