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Racism? In Pool Incident And Aftermath, Local Mom Accuses RIOC

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A pool incident in Sportspark ricocheted into conflict with RIOC management that a local mom says confirms embedded racism. By day’s end, a troubling video gathered attention and anger on Facebook.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

A Pool Incident Upsets a Morning Routine in Sportspark

For Susana del Campo Perea — Susy — and her daughters, it started out as just another day at the pool. Since early in the month, she’d brought her seven and nine years old daughters to swim laps in Sportspark.

PSD Chief Kevin Brown at a Black History Month Event at Gallery RIVAA in 2019. With him is current communications manager Jessica Cerone. In the background, now communications director Erica Spencer-EL chats with Susan Rosenthal.

But Monday, July 19th, was different, erupting from a simple disagreement into a confrontation with PSD chief Kevin Brown. On a video recorded later, he accuses her of making it all up.

“It didn’t happen,” he tells her, unaware of being recorded, while del Campo Perea cried that she refused to have her children subjected to racial profiling.

Fast escalation

A lifeguard “discriminated against my daughters as soon as they got inside the slow lane to swim their normal 10-14 laps, speaking to me in Spanish.”

The RIOC employee had approached her about her daughters’ swimming in a lane set aside for laps. Until the 19th, they’d done so without incident, but now, there was a problem.

Much of that involved how the lifeguard behaved toward her, according to del Campo Perea.

Although she spoke to the lifeguard only in English, the lifeguard kept addressing her in Spanish. This, she says, was racial profiling based on her appearance.

Del Campo Perea’s speech in English is clear and easily understood, and there was no apparent reason for insisting on Spanish.

But it got worse.

According to del Campo Perea’s account, the dispute over pool use escalated.

“You are the coach, you are not the mother, you can’t be here,” del Campo Perea says she was told.

“I answered that I am their mother. She replied ‘You can’t be the mother because you do not look the same color. You are the coach.’”

Del Campo Perea reported this dialogue in an email to RIOC president/CEO Shelton J. Haynes who did not respond.

There were no other witnesses.

At that point, the pool’s manager summoned Public Safety and asked to have the girls and their mother removed from the pool. Chief Kevin Brown arrived and, del Campo Perea says, sided with the manager.

“I just want to live in Roosevelt Island without hearing day in and day out from your staff that I ain’t the mother of my daughters because we do not share the color of the skin,” she wrote to Haynes.

Escalating the Pool Incident and Another Confrontation with Chief Brown

Frustrated over not hearing from Haynes, del Campo Perea escalated, deciding to wait outside Haynes’s office until he came out.

But first, she knocked on the door at Blackwell House, now misused by the executive for daily office work.

An assistant told her that Haynes was in a meeting and could not see her but promised to relay the request to her boss.

Frustrated over earlier documented cases of Haynes promising follow up that never came, she sat on the front porch, knowing he’d come out, sooner or later.

Instead, for the second time in a few hours, PSD was summoned, and del Campo Perea soon found herself confronted by three uniformed officers. One of them was Chief Brown.

Protecting herself, del Campo Perea reacted by getting her phone on Facebook live and recording the incident as it happened until her battery died. The confrontation lasted a little over thirteen minutes.

A lesson on how not to handle community conflict…

“Did you hear when he said I made it up?” del Campo Perea asked after we watched the painful video.

We did. And Chief Brown added that she was convincing herself that it happened by repeating the story.

Emotions underscore the ensuing video as del Campo Perea pleads for understanding and Brown insists on following procedures.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Brown tells her, trying to divert her complaint into stifling bureaucracy.

But it’s already clear that Brown took sides against her and that her experience with RIOC procedures and Haynes is a roadblock.

She wants Haynes to come out of “hiding” and talk face to face.

Conclusion

This pool incident is hardly the first time accusations of racism hit RIOC. Many times, internal claims about hostile working conditions went all the way to Albany, and externally, racism accusations have been commonplace for years.

Currently, a complaint generated in June, 2020, from inside 591 Main Street lead to accusations of racism against RIOC and, individually, its board of directors. A lawsuit was filed by former president/CEO Susan Rosenthal.

Although RIOC is by law a public benefit corporation, it sealed tight against public interference soon after firing Rosenthal. An apparent power-sharing agreement between Haynes and Communications Director Erica Spencer-EL left the former Youth Center director in charge of the state agency’s public interface.

Spencer-EL, with approval from RIOC’s detached board, determined that external communications must be limited to “branding” and “marketing,” a bizarre approach leaving the community out.

It also leaves the agency with little capacity for resolving disputes or establishing dialogue with community members. That’s shown in not just this event, but also in deep denial over multiple other recent incidents.

No immediate change is in the wind.

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