Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Another Case Like The Camillo Gonsalves Story

Written by: Kelly Virella April 3, 2012

The police barricade in front of his United Nations office building was one that he and other diplomats routinely stepped over to get into their offices, which were guarded 24-hours per day by police. In fact, he had been stepping over the barricade for almost 5 years. And when he did it Friday, he saw diplomats from Israel doing so too. But when Camillo Gonsalves, an ambassador for St. Vincent, stepped over the barricade to return to his office this time, a confrontation with police ensued, culminating in his arrest, Caricom News Network is reporting. Gonsalves was also assaulted, the agency reported: “struck or somehow bruised’’ behind his right ear and was treated at a hospital for minor injuries to his head, wrists, hand and shoulder.

Gonsalves is the second black political figure to be arrested by the NYPD after police failed to recognize their privileges as public officials. At the West Indian Day parade in September, New York City city council member Jumaane Williams was arrested under similar circumstances. After Williams and members of the group he was marching with finished their march, they wanted to go to the Brooklyn Museum to attend a luncheon reception marking the close of the carnival.

Upon showing their credentials, they were given permission by a supervising officer near the library at Grand Army Plaza to enter a barricaded area, which was meant for elected officials and dignitaries, and make their way back to the museum. That’s where the trouble started. The next police officers they encountered did not believe they had clearance to enter the off-limits area, Williams says. Despite showing his credentials, Williams was arrested. At the Million Hoodies March last month, Williams lamented racial profiling. “We’re begging you to give us justice, so we can give you peace,” he said.

Gonsalves’ confrontation with police occurred Friday. He said it began after he crossed the barricade and walked past the guard post. Not only did diplomats step over the barricades, but service workers did too. But the officer, whose last name was Parker, emerged from the post and confronted him, demanding to know why he crossed the barricade. According to Gonsalves, the officer shouted: “Hey you! You! What the hell do you think the Goddamn barricades are there for?” Without responding, Gonsalves went inside the lobby, chatted with a friend, then headed to the elevator. Officer Parker approached from behind, grabbed him by his neck, spun him around, and said “didn’t you see me talking to you?”

Not understanding why he was being yelled at for going into his office building, Gonsalves replied in a calm voice: “You couldn’t have been talking to me.”

“Show me some ID right now!” Officer Parker allegedly said.

“Why? Am I under arrest?” Gonsalves said, to which the officer allegedly replied “You are now!” Under international law, Gonsalves had diplomatic immunity. So when the officer told Gonsalves to place his hands behind his back, Gonsalves refused to comply. Only when backup came was he handcuffed. But at that point a crowd of diplomats had congregated were screaming at the police that they were violating Gonsalves’ rights.

Other officers began questioning him — without reading him his Miranda rights — asking him who he was and what happened. In earshot, he could could hear the arresting officer allegedly saying, “I couldn’t let him just walk into the building. Look at him: he could be a terrorist.’” Gonsalves took the risk of explaining the situation to the additional officers and someone called senior NYPD officials and state department officials to the scene of the incident. When they arrived, police released Gonsalves from the handcuffs he had been in for 20 minutes and he went to his office.

Later a state department official — who personally expressed regret over the incident — informed him that the NYPD was considering giving him a summons, which would require him to pay a fine. He informed the official that he considered himself the victim of a police assault and was considering seeking his own redress. Shortly thereafter, police sent word that they would not be issuing him a summons.

Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.