This was relayed last night in the House of Assembly as the Minister recounted three occasions where he suffered at the hands of racial profiling and police brutality overseas, because of his skin color.
“Some persons may not know, but I went to the United States and got into a lot of trouble with the police. I remember I spent the night in jail. In Atlanta they have a monthly quota to fill and so they were giving out tickets like crazy. So I was pulled over and spent the night in jail, which was filled with black people.”
The Minister also reflected on a second incident in Indiana when he had locs. “I used to drive between Indiana and Chicago, and one morning I was very tired, struggling to stay awake while I was driving. So I was driving slowly, but sometimes I’d press the gas a little bit. So the police pulled me over and I would never forget watching the police in my rare view mirror with his hand on his gun. I started fumbling around for my license and told me to put my hands on the steering wheel and don’t move.”
“And I didn’t even realize how much danger I was in.” he said. Because of the perceived threat, because they don’t see the fact that you from the BVI, they just see the fact that you’re a black man”
The Minister also detailed a traumatizing experience in the UK while he was away studying and decided to visit a friend’s house. “There was two undercover officers and they saw me in the neighborhood. I went to a friend’s house and the friend wasn’t there, so I was waiting around until the friend showed up. The officers ended up accusing me of breaking into people’s homes and they wanted to search my bag for a crow bar, when my bag was full of school books.”
“And I decided that they’re not going to search me because I didn’t do anything to merit that harassment”. The Minister said his resistance resulted in tussle between him and the officers, causing damages to vehicles in the area.
“It took them a good while before they got me on the ground. They eventually called for backup and when they came, a whole circle of officers surrounded me and began pushing me around in a circle. It was then that I asked somebody who was walking by to just stand up and watch. After I said that, and because it was day time, they decided to take all my books in the bag and throw it on the ground and eventually, they left”
The Minister shared his experiences to highlight the fact that BVIslanders are not exempt to the plights of racism. “We’re not immune to this racism and I think that it’s important that all of us stand together globally, against racism.”
Minister Wheatley said that the BVI should not isolate themselves from the cause, adding “persons might ask what does this have to do with you here, well, we have several individuals. lots of students who leave here to go live in the united states, and United Kingdom”
In wake of George Floyd’s death, many residents have taken to social media to debate whether the BVI should host a protest, to echo the sentiments of the wider world.
One resident said “I’m curious as to little or no mention of George Floyd in the BVI. However, many of us in this community are US citizens and parents of US citizens. Tortola is privileged to be a black nation where racism isn’t a big issue but at the same time isn’t non-existent. Aside from COVID-19, what other reasons have made the BVI so quiet on the matter?”
Last Saturday, neighboring St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix stood in solidarity and joined the global march to against systematic racism and inspire police reform.
Activists across the world continue to push that this is a global issue, and warned persons not to buy into a false sense of security even if the issue isn’t as blatant in their respective countries.
Minister Natalio Wheatley is the first local politician to speak out against the issue.
It always seems impossible until it is done.