Thursday, March 29, 2012

SVG Ambassador Arrested For Not Obeying Police

NYPD claims St. Vincent UN envoy refused to identify himself

NEW YORK, Mar. 29, CMC – The New York Police Department (NYPD) said on Thursday that St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ambassador to the United Nations, Camillo Gonsalves, was arrested on Wednesday after he refused to identify himself.

“The officer asked the ambassador to stop, he refused, he continued and entered into the location, and the officers followed him into the location,” the NYPD said in a terse statement.

But Gonsalves, the eldest son of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, told reporters that he was returning to his office on Wednesday after lunch and stepped out of his official car, through a barricade in front of the building that houses the Mission to the United Nations, as he has done for the past five years.

He said a police officer then confronted him, shouting: “What do you think the barricades are there for?”

Gonsalves said, as he continued to walk towards the building’s elevator, the officer followed him, grabbing him by his neck and shoulders.

He said the unidentified officer then spun him around and said: “’Didn't you see me talking to you.’”

Gonsalves, who has diplomatic immunity, said he replied: “You couldn't have been talking to me.”

He said the officer then demanded identification, according to the Associated Press.

“I said, ‘Why? Am I under arrest?’” Gonsalves said.

“’Well you are now,’” the officer replied.

At that point, the envoy said the officer handcuffed him, with assistance from other officers he had called for “backup,”

Gonsalves said other UN envoys, including some from Gambia, Dominica and St. Lucia, as well as their staff, rushed to the lobby and told the officer he had erred, according to the AP.

“The officer, for the first time, inquired who I was,” the AP quoted Gonsalves as saying. “I told him. He called for his superiors. The US State Department, as host country, was also called, and they sent representatives.

“The initial position of the NYPD was that I was disorderly, and something should be done because of my disorderly conduct,” he added.

Gonsalves said, after discussions with him, the State Department representatives and the other diplomats, “the NYPD were persuaded to release the handcuffs, and I'm back in my office now.

“Separate and apart from any diplomatic immunities, I personally think the officer was wrong and committed an assault against me,” added Gonsalves, a trained lawyer, disclosing that he was handcuffed for about 20 minutes.

“We will be following up. We will seek other forms of redress, but what form it will take, I can't say,” he continued.

Gonsalves, who was hospitalized last night for injury to his left wrist and thumb, said that aside from the officer who handcuffed him, the other police officers who came to the scene were “very professional and very courteous.”

He also lauded State Department officials from the US Mission to the United Nations, who he said arrived promptly and “were exemplary.”

Gonsalves said because Israel's UN Mission is located in the same building as St. Vincent and the Grenadines’, there is extra security there.

“There's nothing novel about what I did today in terms of entering the building,” Gonsalves said. “There’s never been an incident before.”

He said doctors have examined him also for possible ligament injury to his left shoulder.

In the interim, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Douglas Slater, said Kingstown is not taking the matter lightly.

“Ambassador Gonsalves is preparing a report after which we intend to follow up the matter with the relevant US authorities,” he told reporters.

Maxwell Haywood, chairman of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Diaspora Committee of New York, said he was “comprehensively appalled that this can happen to anyone, especially one of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ highest representatives at the global level.

“This is a very loud message to all of us that police harassment and brutality are alive and well,” said Haywood, who is also a United Nations’ Development Officer, in a Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) interview.

“We have to be always vigilant against such police actions,” he added, noting that the police officer who arrested Gonsalves was white.

“This means we have to be very organized, and we need an organized response to this action by the police,” Haywood told CMC.