Reporter Frisked on Passer-by Error

Tuesday, May 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EASTHAM, Mass. (AP) — A black newspaper reporter who was interviewing a traveling evangelist next to a highway was frisked twice by police officers after a passer-by apparently mistook his tape recorder for a gun.

A federal official said his office would be speaking with police and might try to get better training for officers on racial matters, but the chief defended the actions.

Two Eastham police officers responded to a 911 call Sunday claiming a black man at the side of Route 6 was holding a gun to a white man's head, Police Chief Donald Watson said.

Police detained and frisked Sean Gonsalves, a black reporter for the Cape Cod Times. He had been interviewing Arthur Blessitt, 59, a white Florida man marching along highways preaching the Gospel and hauling a 12-foot wooden cross.

Gonsalves, who has worked for the paper for six years, had held a small tape recorder near the man's mouth during the interview, according to the account in today's Cape Cod Times. The reporter said he was not roughed up but was frisked twice by officers even after he had identified himself and offered to show credentials.

The editor of the Cape Cod Times, Cliff Schectman, asked police for an apology, calling it a case of racial profililng. But Watson told The Boston Globe his police do not ``apologize for doing our job.''

Martin Walsh, regional director of the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Justice Department in Boston, said a conflict resolution team would speak with officers in Eastham and with local members of the NAACP, which filed a complaint.

Walsh's department does not prosecute, but seeks resolution through mediation. That could include additional training.

In Wellfleet, another Cape Cod community, a justice department team held training for police after they stopped a black man at gunpoint in February for acting suspiciously. He had been dancing to music on headphones and didn't hear police commands.