It’s a safe bet that many Americans don’t know that the Caribbean island of St. Croix is actually American soil. Purchased from Denmark in 1917 along with St. Thomas, St. John, and a few other dots in the archipelago comprising the U.S. Virgin Islands, the island’s residents are U.S. citizens. Travel to and from the continental U.S., apart from the distance, is no more difficult than going to Wisconsin. Other than the when a hurricane or tropical storm comes near, the islands don’t make much news except when publishers need to fill space with a “best places to visit in the Caribbean” article . . .
That’s why I was surprised to read an article explaining that a state of emergency had been declared on the island of St. Croix this weekend – not because of bad weather, but because of bad actors. It seems that a so-called ‘gang war’ was in progress on that isle over the weekend….
An uneasy peace settled on St. Croix on Sunday, with a state of emergency in effect and the community still on edge after one man was killed and at least seven other people were wounded in gun violence in several spots around the island Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Police believe much of the violence was retaliatory, in what Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr. described as “gang warfare.”
The violence was notable for what some described as “indiscriminate shooting,” as well as its delicate locations – mid-afternoon outside a day care center; in housing communities in the early evening while it was still light, when children were playing; and along a well-traveled portion of Queen Mary Highway near Central High School on a Saturday morning….
“Once you’re talking about more than one individual, more than two individuals, it suggests to me that it is in fact an organized act,” [Richards] said. “And when you have these organized acts and you have a feud between one group against the other, I have to characterize that gang warfare, in a sense.”
Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter, who is acting governor while Gov. Kenneth Mapp is out of the territory, described the situation as “the wild, wild west.”
St. Thomas saw violence too, with one man killed in a brazen daylight shooting Thursday at Brewers Bay, followed by a shooting early Saturday that left two wounded in what police believe may be newest chapter in an old turf war….
One witness analogized the scene to a “combat zone”:
Former Sen. Holland Redfield, who has a home near the two housing communities, said in an interview that he witnessed the drive-by and it was like nothing he had ever seen.
“The only thing I can compare it with is being in a combat zone,” he said.
He spoke of automatic gunfire and of the residents of the community “in a panic.” He said a group of cars came in with front and back windows rolled down, men hanging out them, “shooting indiscriminately.”
“As it progressed, you could see the panic amongst the mothers of children playing outside,” he said, describing women grabbing children, opening apartment doors and throwing them inside.
According to Redfield, the cars did U-turns and came back to shoot some more.
“Residents of the community that were armed were returning fire,” he said. “It was like a combat zone. I’ve never seen anything like it. I hit the deck.”
Despite being American soil, the Virgin Islands are considered an “unincorporated territory”. Constitutionally, thanks to a series of 100-year-old Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases, constitutional protections for basic civil liberties do not necessarily apply to residents of these American colonial possessions. The territory has very restrictive laws relating to firearm ownership and carriage. There are six different color-coded flavors of firearms licenses in the U.S.V.I.:
Pink – Law Enforcement, retired law enforcement, personal protection, special circumstances.
Blue – business protection
Green – target shooting, sports use and home protection
(With the target shooting license you must be a member of a gun club. The firearm must be unloaded when travelling to and from the range using the most direct route. The shooting range is on the St. Croix district only. Currently St. Thomas does not have a shooting range. Therefore no target shooting licenses are being issued in that district.
Yellow – home protection only (handguns) *For use ONLY at the residential address that is typed on the license*
Grey – farming ( long guns e.g. – rifles/shotguns)
(This license can also be used for boat and home protection)
White – all active law enforcement
The Firearms Rules and Regulations manual further states that licenses to carry firearms will only be issued to officers and employees of the Virgin Islands Government “where such license…should be issued…by virtue of the duties of his position,” bank guards, and any regular ordinary citizen “who establishes to the satisifaction of the Commissioner that he has good reason(s) to fear death or great injury to his person or property, or who establishes any other proper reason for carrying a firearm and the circumstances of the applicant and the testimony of at least two (2) credible persons, demonstrate the need for such license.”
Naturally, the U.S.V.I. does not recognize any firearms licenses issued by other American states or territories. In fact, the Virgin Islands’ police department website helpfully states:
The Firearms Unit recommends that you Do Not bring your States side licensed firearm into our beautiful islands if you will only be visiting for a short while.
If you bring firearms into the islands without contacting the Firearms Unit, you can have your firearm(s) confiscated and be prosecuted in accordance to the laws of the US Virgin Islands.
With that in mind, the perpetrators of the attacks in St. Croix this weekend were likely in violation of quite a few firearms laws. I will leave it up to readers to ponder the impact these laws had on the violence this weekend, and whether or not — if one were a law-abiding resident of St. Croix — one might think it a good idea to apply for one of those pink permits this week.