A video of NYPD officers dragging a protester into an unmarked van during a protest in Manhattan on Tuesday prompted outrage from Queens lawmakers and raised questions about the NYPD’s tactics.
The video, which quickly spread over social media and was picked up by local media outlets, shows plainclothes police officers grabbing transgender activist Nikki Stone, 18, off the streets at 25th Street and 2nd Avenue, pushing her into a gray minivan and driving away. The sudden arrest caused chaos with fellow protesters trying to stop what some characterized as an “abduction,” and NYPD officers with bikes and pepper spray swooping in to stave them off.
The arrest summoned galvanizing images coming out of Portland, Oregon where unidentified federal law enforcement have brazenly snatched protesters off the streets and arrested them, caught the attention of lawmakers who decried the NYPD for using similar tactics.
“Unidentified officers in unmarked vans should not be permitted to abduct NYers, plain and simple. Nikki’s arrest and this abuse of authority should concern us all,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria, Long Island City, and Roosevelt Island and parts of Woodside, Manhattan and Brooklyn) in a tweet.
In a statement issued Tuesday night, the NYPD said that Stone was arrested by a warrant squad because she was wanted for allegedly vandalizing NYPD cameras near CIty Hall. While arresting her, the officers were assaulted by protesters throwing bottles and rocks, they said.
They did not respond to questions about why plainclothes officers with an unmarked van pulled her off the street in the middle of the protest nor did they say whether or not this would be a tactic used in the future to arrest protestors.
Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized that there is no excuse for damaging property but that the NYPD should have arrested Stone at a different time using different methods.
“Given this atmosphere that we’re dealing with in our country and the real concerns people have, it just didn’t make sense. It made sense to do it in a situation that was clearly not in the middle of an ongoing protest, unless you’re talking, obviously, about a particularly serious offense,” he said.
The tactics used by federal law enforcement in Portland, Oregon undermine the democratic process, he said, and he does not want that replicated in New York City.
“That’s just thoroughly unacceptable. So, anything that even slightly suggest that is, to me, troubling and it’s the kind of thing that we don’t want to see in this city. This is not Portland,” he said, adding that he would speak to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea about the incident.
But, the mayor’s promises to speak with the commissioner were not enough for City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria, Dutch Kills) who said that the mayor’s response is ineffectual and a repeat of his response to another viral video of an NYPD using excessive force against a homeless man on the subway.
“Tired of watching the @NYCMayor once again declare that no one will be held accountable in the face of NYPD abuse/misconduct. He said he will talk to @NYPDShea about this horrific video. As he did when an officer punched a homeless person. Nothing changes,” Van Bramer tweeted.
City Councilmember and Democratic Nominee for Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said that the arrest and the tactics used by the NYPD are emblematic of broader problems within the department that will only be fixed through reforms.
“Without structural changes at the NYPD we will only continue to witness incidents like last night. Sadly, this is nothing new,” he wrote on Twitter.
City Councilmember Robert Holden (D-Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, Woodside) had a different perspective, however.
“This is more proof that the NYPD is in a constant no-win situation under the current administration,” he said. “The likelihood that this suspect, who was wanted for repeatedly vandalizing NYPD equipment, would have complied with NYPD officers if they approached her is slim to none. Police have to make an arrest when they locate a perpetrator, and I don’t think they have the luxury of waiting until a demonstration is over. This is the epitome of the anti-cop culture that our radical progressive politicians have created.”
Stone was released shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Gothamist reported, and was charged with vandalism and criminal mischief related to five different incidents which took place in June and July.
Dmitriy Shakhnevich, a lawyer and adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that based off of watching the footage, there are two different forces at play in Stone’s arrest: the legality of the arrest and the officers use of excessive force.
“The fact that the video looks horrific has less to do with the legality of the arrest and more to do with the excessive force,” said Shakhnevich.
If the officers had probable cause to arrest Stone, the arrest may very well be legal, he said.
“You look at the video and you cringe because it looks so horrible but that doesn’t necessarily mean the arrest is bad,” he said. “That just means that they exposed themselves civilly and administratively –– internally, I mean, within the NYPD. But the arrest may still stick.”