Eugene Ryder is respected enough to be appointed by the New Zealand government to assist a Royal Commission and the child welfare ministry Oranga Tamariki – but last night he was barred from entering the Cook Islands.
A well-known community leader has been turned back from a flight to Rarotonga for a family holiday, because of his gang history.
Eugene Ryder, 48, is a long-time Black Power gang member, but he hasn't had any criminal convictions in the past 15 years.
Instead, he's built a career as a social worker, working with the NZ Police, and as an ambassador for that country's Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical State Abuse.
Ryder and his family arrived at Auckland International Airport yesterday afternoon to check in for a flight to Rarotonga at 4.30pm (NZ Time), Cook Islands News reports.
But he was told his entry into Cook Islands had been denied because he was on a list of known gang members shared with Cook Islands Immigration by the New Zealand Police.
The ban on him boarding the plane is part of a high-profile effort by Cook Islands Immigration to stop the entry of overseas gang members and criminals, whom Prime Minister Henry Puna has blamed for drug trafficking. Nearly 40 gang member have been stopped this year.
It's public knowledge that Ryder has been an active member of Black Power for more than 20 years – he's been an advocate working with the gang and government agencies.
According to former MP Hone Harawira, Ryder has been a well-respected negotiator and mediator in helping defuse tensions between gangs, and is on the speed dial of New Zealand Police Minister Stuart Nash, Police Commissioner Mike Bush and Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha.
Ryder said last night: "I told them I would pull out of the Black Power right there and then, if it meant I could go on this holiday with my family."
Speaking to the Cook Islands News from Auckland Airport, an emotional Ryder told how he and his wife had been planning the trip to Rarotonga for months – only to be stopped because of his gang history.
Thinking it would be a good idea to be proactive in their holiday planning, Ryder had contacted the Cook Islands consulate in Auckland three months ago, to make sure his previous convictions would not be an issue when entering the Cook Islands.
He was told because the criminal convictions were older than 15 years, he would have no problem.
Although Ryder's family checked in without issue, they would not travel without him because it was "their special holiday and time together".
Last night, a high-powered list of leaders were swinging their support behind Ryder. Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha had promised to try and assist by calling Cook Islands Police Commissioner Maara Tetava.
But the notice prohibiting his entry was signed by Principal Immigration Officer Kairangi Samuela.
And Ryder said the only person who can overturn the decision and grant him entry was Samuela.
Last night, Samuela said she would look into Ryder's case when she returns to work on Monday.
Air New Zealand has promised to hold the family's flight up until Monday (CI time), but the Edgewater Resort will not refund the amount paid for accommodation for the six days they would have been here.
"A refund doesn't matter," Ryder said. "We just want to be there."
– Cook Islands News