St Vincent envoy arrested
The New York Police Department (NYPD) said today that St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ambassador to the United Nations, Camillo Gonsalves, was arrested and placed in handcuffs yesterday 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 he had stepped out of his official car as he returned to his office after lunch and passed through the same barricade he had used “for the past five years” when he was challenged by a police officer.
In a verbal exchange that followed, with the Vincentian diplomat walking towards the building’s elevator, Gonsalves said the officer grabbed him by the neck and shoulders, spun him around and then demanded identification.
After asking “why” and asking if he was under arrest, the unidentified officer said “you are now” and placed him in handcuffs with assistance from other officers, Gonsalves said. He said police arrested him for “disorderly conduct”.
According to reports, other United Nations envoys and mission staff, including some from Dominica, St Lucia and The Gambia rushed to the lobby and told the officer he had made a mistake in arresting Gonsalves, who has diplomatic immunity.
“Separate and apart from any diplomatic immunities, I personally think the officer was wrong and committed an assault against me,” said Gonsalves, adding that he was handcuffed for about 20 minutes.
Gonsalves said it was only then that the officer “for the first time, inquired who I was”, the Associated Press 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.
But after discussions involving Gonsalves, officials from the US Mission to the United Nations and other diplomats, “the NYPD were persuaded to release the handcuffs” and he went up to his office.
Gonsalves gave this account of the incident to the Associated Press, in which the officer shouted at Gonsalves, then ran after him as the diplomat entered the building.
Officer (shouting): “What do you think the barricades are there for?”
The officer “grabbed me by my neck and shoulders, spun me around and said, ‘Didn’t you see me talking to you?’”
Gonsalves: “You couldn’t have been talking to me.”
The officer then demanded identification.
Gonsalves: “Why? Am I under arrest?”
Officer: “Well you are now.”
Gonsalves was hospitalized Wednesday night for injury to his left wrist and thumb, and said that doctors also examined him for possible ligament injury to his left shoulder.
“There’s nothing novel about what I did today in terms of entering the building,” Gonsalves said
“The initial position of the NYPD (New York Police Department) was that I was disorderly, and something should be done because of my disorderly conduct.
“We will be following up. We will seek other forms of redress, but what form it will take, I can’t say,” he continued.
In the interim, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Foreign Minister Douglas Slater, that he had been in touch with Gonsalves and added that Kingstown wanted answers from US authorities.
“Kingstown) has been informed. I have been in touch with Ambassadors Gonsalves and (Ambassador to the United States Lacillia) Prince. Ambassador Gonsalves is preparing a report after which we intend to follow up the matter with the relevant US authorities,” Slater said told the Caribbean Media Corporation late on Wednesday night.
“We have already reported the matter to them (US authorities), as you may have read in the reports. They have had initial discussions on the matter which led to the prompt release of Ambassador Gonsalves. We will certainly be taking the matter seriously,” he added.
On Thursday, representatives of Vincentian nationals here backed Gonsalves and said that police harassment and brutality were “alive and well”, further suggesting a racial undercurrent.
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 Programme officer, in a Caribbean Media Corporation interview.
“We have to be always vigilant against such police actions,” he added, noting that a white police officer arrested Gonsalves, who is black.
“This means we have to be very organized, and we need an organized response to this action by the police,” Haywood told CMC.
Repeated calls to Gonsalves for a response to the police statement went unanswered. (CMC)