After Portland, Ore., was the Dantean setting for new federal strategies against social protest, a very familiar situation arose in New York on Tuesday.
As reported by The Washington Post, and as seen in several videos shared on social networks, a protester was grabbed and dragged into an unmarked Kia van that stopped near the march through Manhattan in the evening.
Several NYPD officers can be seen wearing T-shirts and shorts and forcing the demonstrator into the van in what many witnesses have described as “a kidnapping.”
Amid the uproar on social networks, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) warned “our civil liberties are on brink,” in a Twitter commentary.
“There is no excuse for snatching women off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans,” Ocasio-Cortez added.
The police department confirmed in a statement on the same social network that it was an unmarked vehicle used to stop the demonstrator. She was identified as 18-year-old Nikki Stone, a trans woman who is “wanted for damaging police cameras during five separate criminal incidents” in and around City Hall Park.
The department explained that the police team, called the Warrant Squad, “uses unmarked vehicles to locate wanted suspects effectively,” it added in an email to the Post.
As is now customary, the police also added that the protesters had attacked the vehicle. At the same time, people on the scene claimed that the attacks had begun from the other side.
“We didn’t see where they came from,” one witness told Gothamist. “All of a sudden, they grabbed [Nikki]. It was like a kidnapping.”
Stone has since been released from police custody, according to a local news report.
After President Donald Trump announced his decision to send federal agents to Portland as part of his “law and order” campaign, he extended his threat to other cities such as New York and Chicago. He argued his move was due to the alleged inability of Democratic mayors to control the demonstrations.
What happened Tuesday in New York seems to be another erratic promise fulfilled.
“[W]ith anxiety about what’s happening in Portland, the NYPD deploying unmarked vans with plainclothes cops to make street arrests of protestors feels more like provocation than public safety,” New York City Council member Brad Lander (D) tweeted.
Representative Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said in a tweet that the video of a “protester in New York City being thrown in an unmarked van — is terrifying and should be unacceptable to everyone who respects the constitutional rights this country was founded on,” CBS reported.
He called for “an immediate explanation for this anonymous use of force.”
A police department with skeletons in the closet
While New York became a symbolic bastion of opposition to the Trump Administration, the social revolution triggered by George Floyd’s death has left a questionable record in his police department.
An extensive report by the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica has revealed several disciplinary records of NYPD officials that were once kept secret under the protection of the recently-repealed 50-a law.
ProPublica organized the information into a list with each of the disciplines and names of all officers.
“The CCRB receives thousands of complaints every year, but it is only able to substantiate a tiny fraction of them,” the media explained. “In 2018, the agency examined about 3,000 allegations of misuse of force. It substantiated 73.”
Much of the obstacle to holding officers accountable in cases like Eric Garner’s in 2014 has been the aggressive protectionism of police officers’ unions, ProPublica explained.
Finally, the departments themselves must provide evidence from the investigations, which could leave many more cases under wraps.
“Investigators are often unable to reach conclusions on cases, in significant part because they must rely on the NYPD to hand over evidence, such as footage from body-worn cameras,” ProPublica concludes. “Often, the department doesn’t do so, despite a legal duty to cooperate with CCRB investigations.”