New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had to answer for the NYPD again on Wednesday morning, after a viral video showed officers in an unmarked van, some of whom were in plainclothes, grabbing a young protester off a Manhattan street on Tuesday evening.
The video instantly recalled reports coming from Portland, Ore., where federal agents had used similar tactics targeting alleged protesters around the city’s downtown.
“I think it was the wrong time and the wrong place to effectuate that arrest,” the mayor said, according to Gothamist reporter Jake Offenhartz. “The arrest as I understand it was for damaging police property. No one is allowed to damage police property. My message to everyone is if you’re out there protesting, protest peacefully.”
The scene of the arrest quickly turned chaotic, as protesters raised alarm about the detainment of 18-year-old transwoman Nikki Stone as it was happening, writes the Washington Post. Stone was among those leading the protest.
The NYPD confirmed the arrest in a Twitter statement, claiming Stone had a warrant for “damaging police cameras during 5 separate criminal incidents in & around City Hall Park.”
Last month, protesters camped out outside of City Hall in an attempt to push City Council to defund the NYPD.
“When officers from the Warrant Squad took the woman into custody in a gray NYPD minivan this evening, they were assaulted with rocks and bottles,” the NYPD added. “The Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects.”
That claim was vehemently disputed by protesters on the scene, however.
“Four guys jumped out and a line of police bicycles came out from down the block — we hadn’t seen them,” Derrick, a 32-year-old protester, told Gothamist. “They pushed us back. They grabbed Nikki like she was a rag doll...They had her arms on her neck and then they drove off.”
“We didn’t see where they came from,” another witness told Gothamist. “All of a sudden they grabbed Nikki. It was like a kidnapping.”
Protester Clara Kraebber told the local outlet that officers used pepper spray “seemingly at random” on protesters during the arrest.
“We literally turned the corner and were met with a line of police who attacked us without warning,” she said. “They were trying to make it painful to be there.”
The arrest is raising alarms well outside of New York City, where Black Lives Matter protests have gone on daily for the last two months. As surges of federal agents are set to land in Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M, civil rights organizers are anticipating increased use of force from federal, state and local law enforcement, particularly in minority communities and at protest sites.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted a video of the arrest last night, writing, “Our civil liberties are on [the] brink.”
“This is not a drill. There is no excuse for snatching women off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans,” she wrote. “To not protect our rights is to give them away. It is our responsibility to resist authoritarianism.”
Updated: Wednesday, July 29, 2020, at 2:50 PM, ET: LGBTQ organization Human Rights Campaign released a statement today in support of Nikki Stone, noting that her identity as a transwoman put her at greater risk for police brutality while under police custody.
“We know that people of color and transgender people are at greater risk of police brutality, with transgender people at particular risk of harassment and abuse while detained,” the organization wrote in a statement shared with The Root. “We must transform policing and the criminal justice system in this country so that marginalized populations are free from police brutality and a militarized police force.”
Stone was released from police custody after receiving a desk appearance ticket. Since her arrest, a GoFundMe that was set up for Stone, who has been experiencing homelessness, has surpassed its goal.
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