Our Readers' Opinions
April 27, 2012
Dissecting Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves’ Arrest and Fiasco

Fri, Apr 27. 2012

–by Lennox A. Daniel
Former SVG Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations

It is unfortunate that Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves was arrested and detained by an officer of the New York Police Department (NYPD) on the charge of disorderly conduct on March 28, 2012. Subsequent to his arrest, Vincentians at home and in the Diaspora engaged in a plethora of opinions on the matter via e-mail, Facebook, etc. When contacted by Nelson King of the Caribbean Life Newspaper for my comments on the matter, he was very disappointed that I had none to offer.{{more}} I declined out of concern for being misquoted by him as he had done previously; but most importantly, because I was not fully apprised of the facts of the matter.

Now that it appears that the dust over the arrest fiasco has settled, it would be remiss of me not to enter the public debate on the issue for the following reasons. First, although I was not at the scene of the incident, I am of the opinion that very few are as qualified as I am to provide an unbiased and analytical perspective of the situation. Second, yesterday it was Ambassador Gonsalves, tomorrow it could be another Vincentian, or someone else from another CARICOM country, with worse consequences than experienced by the Ambassador. The famous American historian, Professor Howard Zinn, opined that “you can’t be neutral on a moving train”.

The initial information provided to me on the arrest fiasco gave the impression that the Ambassador had stepped out of bounds, and that the police officer had not. But based on my firsthand knowledge of the geography and history of the location, and information I obtained subsequently, it has become clear to me that the actions of Police Officer Parker towards the Ambassador went beyond the expectations of a peace-keeping officer of the NYPD, particularly at the site where the incident occurred.

At the April 11th Town Hall meeting called jointly by the SVG United Nations (UN) Mission, the SVG Consulate, and the SVG Diaspora Committee to apprise Vincentians of the fiasco over his arrest, Ambassador Gonsalves stated that he and I did not always see eye to eye politically. He was correct. He further stated that he was surprised that I was not present at that meeting, since I too had crossed the barricades under discussion during my tenure at the SVG UN Mission. The Ambassador was also correct.

From the onset, it is imperative that I present some facts relevant to the issue. The building in discussion, 800 Second Avenue in Manhattan is owned/managed by Israel. In addition to medical facilities, a number of Latin American, African, Caribbean, and Pacific foreign Missions & Consulates, share the use of the 18-story building with Israel’s UN Mission & Consulate. It is perhaps one of the most highly guarded diplomatic facilities in Manhattan after the United Nations Headquarters. Three different types of security personnel are associated with the building. An external security situated in a booth immediately in front of the building and manned by armed NYPD officers; an internal security in the building’s lobby manned by privately contracted unarmed security personnel; and lastly, unarmed Israeli security personnel who augment the lobby security and who also monitor the two elevators which take passengers and freight beyond the 9th floor where the Israelis are the predominant tenants. For the past four and a half years, the Ambassador occasionally entered the building after exiting his diplomatic car directly in front of the building and bypassed the barricades in full view of the police on guard without incident.

Prior to the Ambassador’s arrest, wooden and metal barricades were loosely stacked in a manner which provided easy access to anyone entering the building. The purpose of these barricades is to minimize pedestrian traffic, particularly during the occurrence of pro- and anti-Israeli and Palestinian demonstrations on the opposite side of the street. Regularly, a number of persons who conduct business in the building exit their cars at the police booth in front of the building rather than having to take the longer walk from the intersections at East 43rd Street or at 42nd Street to enter the building. This has been the modus operandi for accessing the building by the Ambassador’s predecessor, other diplomats, and other tenants of the building. On many occasions, I have done the same without receiving as much as a cursory glance from the police officer on guard in the booth. So to me, the news of the Ambassador’s arrest for crossing the barricades was a shocker.

The arrest has generated three pertinent questions which must be addressed soon, rather than later. First, was it possible that Officer Parker may have been assigned to that security post in such a short time that he was unfamiliar with the Ambassador’s officially authorized association with the building? If that was the case, then the NYPD should be held accountable for not ensuring that its officers assigned to provide security at that site were properly trained to do so.

The second and a vexing question to be addressed is: Did the Ambassador’s Middle Eastern ethnic disposition trigger his arrest and the subsequent physical and psychological abuse he endured at the hands of Officer Parker? This appears to have been the case and therefore tantamount to ethnic profiling on the part of the officer. It was reprehensible on the part of Officer Parker to have stated, as reported, that the Ambassador looked like a terrorist. The Ambassador was not donned with a back pack; neither was he carrying a suspicious package in his hand when he was entering the building. The only object he was carrying was his usual note-taking folder. I am unaware of the scope of Officer Parker’s training at the NYC Police Academy or any subsequent training he received. However, it appears that he may have brought his penchant for profiling from the slum-like neighborhoods of the outer boroughs of the city to one of the most recognized diplomatic facilities in Manhattan after the United Nations Headquarters.

The final and equally vexing question as the last is whether or not the Ambassador’s response to Officer Parker was pivotal to the arrest fiasco. It is reported that after the Ambassador crossed the barricade outside the building and proceeded toward the elevators, Officer Parker yelled “hey you, what do you see the barriers there for?” to the Ambassador. When the Ambassador did not respond favourably to Officer Parker, it was then that he was assaulted by Officer Parker. I can fully understand why the Ambassador could not have believed that he was the subject of Officer Parker’s vitriol. The “hey you” lingo Officer Parker directed toward the Ambassador is reserved for the provinces of the ghetto and not akin to a diplomatic environment. Consider the possible consequences Officer Parker would have faced, had he similarly shouted “hey you” to an individual with the Ambassador’s complexion, who had crossed those barricades, and whom he subsequently found out to be a high ranking officer of the NYPD!

When Officer Parker left his post at the booth and began to trail the Ambassador into the building, he committed the offense of dereliction of duty. How the NYPD will deal with him on this count is another matter. Furthermore, when Officer Parker entered the building, he usurped the responsibilities of the internal security personnel. Officer Parker had only two immediate and justifiable reasons to enter the building when he did. One, if he was invited to do so by the internal security personnel to maintain the peace, or two, if he wanted to use the bathroom. It is clear that neither was the case.

Officer Parker’s refusal to remove the cuffs from the hands of the Ambassador, even after he was pressed to do so by the US State Department official called to the scene; his rancid response to the Ambassador’s inquiry as to if he was under arrest, and even when internal security personnel and other diplomats tried to convince Officer Parker of the Ambassador’s association with the building, showed his disdain for the rule of law. It appears that Officer Parker had engaged in the ideology of ‘out-a-man’ or ‘raw bones’ in the cricket vernacular, or even in the card game ‘cut-throat Peugeot’, until he solicited partnership (aka backup) from his NYPD colleagues.

If Ambassador Gonsalves had flashed his ID to Officer Parker, it would have mattered not to Officer Parker that the Ambassador committed the insignificant act of crossing the barricade. Therefore, it is quite clear that Officer Parker’s real beef had little to do with the Ambassador’s crossing of the barricades as much as it had to do with his notion that an individual with a Middle Eastern ethnic disposition whom he perceived to be a terrorist failed to yield to his “hey you…” dictate.

I concur with the vast majority of Vincentians who entered the discourse on this matter and correctly concluded, that if Officer Parker had exercised a modicum of politeness in providing the Ambassador with the opportunity to properly identify himself, the matter would never have escalated into the fiasco that it became. I am convinced that had Officer Parker attempted to solicit the Ambassador’s attention with the courteous “excuse me, sir…” instead of “hey you…”, the Ambassador would have reciprocated in a manner that would have made Officer Parker humbled himself back to his security booth, where he properly belonged, without an incident.

In his encounter with Ambassador Gonsalves, it is obvious that Officer Parker did not execute his responsibilities with the Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect in a manner in which the NYPD purports to pride itself.

Shortly after the arrest fiasco, NYPD scrambled to deter continued easy pedestrian access through the barricades. The police booth is now so fortified, when compared to the past it resembles Fort Knox. Two rows of metal barriers (instead of one, previously) are tightly wire-fastened and pushed back to the concrete blocks. The barricades are now so impenetrable it will now take ‘10 Tarzans’ to bypass them. This is a good way forward.

For additional ways forward, the NYPD should undertake to include in the curriculum of its police academy and continuing education, compulsory training in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Article 29 in particular, and the United Nations Headquarters Agreement. It should also ensure that no police officer should be engaged in security assignments at diplomatic sites in Manhattan unless they have successfully completed such training. Finally, the NYPD should ensure that its officers are familiarized with the diplomatic tenants of the buildings for which they provide security.

It is welcoming to know that US Ambassador Rice has personally expressed regret on her behalf and on that of the US Government to Ambassador Gonsalves for his ordeal and assured him that the NYPD will undertake a thorough internal examination of the matter to avoid its reoccurrence. She has agreed to discuss the incident with the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC) which sent formal letters of protest to the US Mission in solidarity with Ambassador Gonsalves. It is also welcoming to know that UN CARICOM chairman Ambassador Delano F. Bart of St Kitts & Nevis has spearheaded the effort to redress the matter with the United States as host country of the United Nations.

It is unfortunate that the matter, no fault of the Ambassador’s, has escalated to a certain level of party politics. Having thoroughly dissected the fiasco, it is my hope that Vincentians at home and in the Diaspora would now turn to the continued effort of building of our nation.