Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Bad racial profiling


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One rewarding return of writing a weekly column is regular communication with readers.
Feedback is, in the main, positive and helpful.
It is encouraging to know that people connect with this space both through the printed page here and the World Wide Web globally.
Last week’s article Murder Florida-Style generated above normal response. Two responses, a phone call and an email, questioned why I thought it necessary to write about the cold-blooded killing of a 17-year-old African American by a white neighbourhood watch vigilante in an Orlando suburb.
An extremely articulate and well informed gentleman wanted to know why I would devote a column to that, rather than to local hot button issues such as Clico, REDjet, the long-drawn-out failure of Government to settle the Al Barrack affair, the rising cost of living and stasis of Caricom and CSME.
He also informed me that more than 1 000 workers would be axed shortly when the Almond hotels closed.
I told him that what appears in this space is entirely at my discretion and always contemporary. Having got my tertiary education and worked outside of Barbados for half of my adult life in Britain and the United States, I continue to follow closely their social, economic and political affairs.
Furthermore, there were elements of the Trayvon Martin killing, namely racial profiling, institutional racism and apparent police ineptitude which ignited my interest as a social scientist and which I wanted to share with readers.
I reiterated the point that even with the monumental trajectory change implicit in election of an African American president, racism still stalked that country from sea to shining sea.
He countered by correctly saying that countrywide young black men were being killed daily in black on black crime, gang warfare or by the police.
His preference, however, is that home drums beat first and those of us fortunate enough to be columnists have a primary responsibility “in these very dire times” to write about Barbadian affairs.
It is a tribute to our growth, development and maturity as a people that we can discuss issues and ideas without angst or animus and can agree to disagree, promise to dialogue again and part in peace. I acknowledge the prescience of his comment that time would expose the folly of those who say that Almond is too big to fail.
The other responder, a returned national resettling home after living in New York for 42 years, was surprised that as a former diplomat, I did not advert to the arrest of the St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ambassador to the United Nations Camillo Gonsalves. I explained that at the time of writing information on the matter was sketchy and I was awaiting further and better particulars.
Gonsalves’ detention
I am now in a position to say that three of the principal components of the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida were also at the heart of Ambassador Gonsalves’ detention in Manhattan – institutional racism, racial profiling and police ineptitude.
I know the area where he was detained well.
When I served (1979-1982) as Deputy Permanent Representative at the United Nations, the embassy occupied the 16th and 17th floors of the same 800 Second Avenue building. Immediately below, the 14th and 15th floors housed the Israeli Mission and Consulate. That country’s current prime minister was consul general.
Security was always at an extremely high level. Since 9/11, it was raised even higher and I am advised that barricades on the sidewalk are now common. Nothing, however, should obstruct an accredited head of mission from entering the building housing his mission to pursue his country’s interests.
With the type of state-of-the-art equipment used by New York City police, the officer standing on the sidewalk should have been able to alert his colleague that the gentleman approaching had exited a diplomatic car. He should have known that there are several diplomatic missions in the building and proceeded with great caution and respect.
The policeman, however, reported that looking at Ambassador Gonsalves’ phenotype he could be a terrorist. That is racial profiling at its worst and provoked the type of physical reaction in an atmosphere of institutional racism which usually targets criminals rather than diplomats. It reeks of daily crass and unpardonable police ineptitude.
To their eternal credit, Caribbean ambassadors at the UN wasted no time in coming together to condemn the outrageous police action and lodge a strong letter of protest to the secretary general, city and federal governments.
I am aware that the charge d’affaires of the United States Embassy here has issued a statement. The fact that the ambassador suffered bodily damage and had to be treated at hospital tells a tale of abuse of his diplomatic persona and status which must be addressed expeditiously at the highest level.
Have a happy Easter!
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email


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