British Virgin Islands

Friday, Oct 30, 2020

‘We in Virgin Islands not immune to racism'- Dr Wheatley

Calls for everyone in BVI to stand against racism and the well popular police brutality

Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley has called on the Virgin Islands to stand together with the global movement against racism and police brutality, adding that the Territory is not immune to it.


Countries across the globe have been speaking out via public demonstrations against racial injustice following the death of a black man, George P. Floyd Jr in Minneapolis, USA on May 25, 2020, after a white police office pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while he was on the ground and not resisting arrest.


‘Our children go to school in US & UK’

“I think it is important that all of us stand together globally against racism, because we still have a far way to go,” Dr Wheatley said during the Eighth Sitting of the Second Session of the Fourth House of Assembly (HoA) at the Save the Seed Energy Centre in Duff's Bottom, Tortola, on June 8, 2020.

He added that Virgin Islanders and their families travel all the time and some of their children attend colleges in the United States and United Kingdom, including children of Members of the House of Assembly, and they could end up experiencing racism and police brutality.

“I want to associate myself with the expressions of disapproval and discontent being expressed all over the world at police brutality that has existed in the United States of America and other places for a very long time.”


Ancestors resisted racism & brutality

He said some persons might say such problems don’t exist in the Caribbean, including in the Virgin Islands, but he would have to remind persons of history.

“Our people were subjected to the most brutal and inhumane institution that the world has ever seen, of slavery and colonialism, “and recalled the story of Prosper and slave master Arthur Hodge, who used to murder enslaved individuals, “our people, in some of the most inhumane ways and most brutal ways.”

Dr Wheatley said he was grateful to his ancestors who fought and rebelled against the system of slavery ”and when a Governor or somebody like that annoyed them too much they sent them running to St Thomas on a boat.”

He said proudly it was some Long Look people who had sent a Governor “running” back in the days. “Maybe people would get to understand me a little better when they understand Christopher Fleming and the rest of them bad men from Long Look.”

But he noted that while racism and police brutality may be rampant elsewhere, Virgin Islanders, including students, may end up facing such discrimination.

“We have several individuals who leave from here, students, who go to live in US and UK and may face such discrimination.”


A night in jail

He then proceeded to recall a few incidents where he could have gotten in serious trouble because of police abuse, racism and racial profiling.

Dr Wheatley said when he was going to school in Atlanta he ended up spending a night in jail after speaking up with some choice words against a black police officer when he realized that the police were only sharing “tickets like crazy” in order to meet a quota.

“And you see a place just filled up, overflowing with black people, jail in Atlanta.”


Dangerous incident

Dr Wheatley then spoke of another incident when he was in Indiana and at that time he had locks and was looking like Bob Marley’s son.

He said one early morning he was pulled over by police and recalled watching in the rearview mirror and seeing the police officer approaching with his hand on his holster. He said he was ordered to put his hands on the steering wheel and not to move.

“I didn’t even realise how much danger I was in, Mr Speaker, because the first thing I started to do was to fumble around looking for my licence and he told me to put my hands on the steering wheel and because of the perceived threat. They don’t see the fact that you from the BVI. They just see the fact that you are a black man and the way that black men are perceived all over the world.”


Racial profiling

He then recalled an experience in the UK, where he was accused by two policemen of breaking into homes after he visited a home of a friend who happened not to be there at the time. He said the police wanted to search his bag, which was full of school books.


“They were searching for a crowbar.”

Dr Wheatley said he told them he was not going to let them search him because he did not do anything to merit that type of harassment.

“Those two officers and myself had a little tussle. We had a little wrestling match, I mean we knock off a little side mirror off of cars. It took a good while before they got me on the ground.

“And I had a group of officers there in the UK because they had to call for backup. Yes, they had to call for backup for me because that Christopher Fleming kind of thing was present.”

He said the officers that came as backup encircled him “and they started to push me around in the circle and I asked somebody who was walking by to just stand up and watch, and because I said that, because it was high day, they took the books out of my bag and just threw them on the ground and then they left.”

Dr Wheatley said he was sharing those few personal stories to show that persons in the Virgin Islands are not immune from racism.

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