Crime deters plan to retire to St. Thomas

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I frequently visited St. Thomas in the early 1970s, and lived there from 1975 to 1982.  My family and I continued to visit St. Thomas every year until 2008, when regrettably it no longer seemed safe or affordable, given the other Caribbean options.  My travel to St. Thomas now is confined to quick visits with friends.

I spent years of my life living, working, and attending college in St. Thomas, a place that became my second home after Washington, D.C.  How times change. In the early ’70s the idea of violent crime was abhorrent and unacceptable to most V.I. residents, as demonstrated by a review of The Daily News from that time, but by the ’80s things began to change, and violence became an ever-increasing threat to residents and tourists. Ineffective police work and inaction by the court system became the norm.

New York City and other metropolitan areas initiated progressive action to tackle crime, treat repeat offenders sternly and make needed improvements in social conditions, but sadly, the Virgin Islands continued on a downward slide. I never thought I could honesty say I felt safer in New York’s Times Square than on St. Thomas’ Garden Street, but the statement is accurate and undeniable.

For many years, I dreamed of retiring back to St. Thomas; however, now as I get close to this decision, I see this is an impossible dream. Unlike a large metropolitan area where geography and distance may offer some protection from high crime areas, the Virgin Islands affords no such protection, which is why addressing criminal behavior is so critical.

It seems that no area of the islands remains safe for law-abiding citizens as mobile criminals roam freely with AK-47 and Glocks at the ready. I currently reside in Virginia, where I can promise you that the possession of unlicensed assault weapons and drugs, with the intent to distribute, would lead to serious jail time even for a first-time offender. This behavior is not tolerated — no debate, no discussion, no tolerance, period.

If the Virgin Islands is to remain economically viable, it cannot exist as the crime capitol of the Leeward Islands.

Persons pre-disposed to commit crimes must discover that the consequences of their actions are swift, certain and harsh. The Legislature must establish adequate laws to address this, and the court system must administer the harsh sentencing required to draw a line in the sand.

The leadership and judicial branches of the V.I. Government must face reality: the Virgin Islands is an expensive place to vacation and live in a world of less expensive, more accessible and considerably safer destinations.  As more people of my generation plan retirements the Virgin Islands should be a natural option, but sadly the frequency and brutality of crime and the failed criminal justice system removes it from the list completely.

It is time for the Virgin Islands to make some hard choices , or only one will remain: Where to place the going out of business sign.

— Henry M. Dennis Jr. lives in Virginia.

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