The New York City Police Department has come under rising criticism after plainclothes officers aggressively detained a woman at a protest and hauled her away in an unmarked vehicle on Tuesday.
Video posted to social media shows men forcefully grabbing 18-year-old Nikki Stone off the street during a demonstration against police brutality and shoving her into an unmarked police van. Uniformed bicycle cops then appear and form a perimeter around the vehicle as bystanders shout in protest.
NYC is taking after Portland – a trans femme protestor was pulled into an unmarked van at the Abolition Park protest – this was at 2nd Ave and 25th Street pic.twitter.com/1PDhSYuK9h
— michelle lh࿊࿊q (@MichelleLhooq) July 28, 2020
People sharing the video online compared the incident to the controversial tactics deployed by federal agents in Portland, Ore., who have in recent weeks used unmarked vans to quickly and covertly snatch protesters off the streets.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized the style of detainment, though not the arrest itself, suggesting the officers should have chosen a less high-octane moment to detain the woman.
“A lot of us have watched in pain what’s been going on in Portland, Oregon. So anything that even slightly suggests that is, to me, troubling, and it’s the kind of thing we don’t want to see in this city,” he said.
“That was not the time and place to effectuate that arrest,” de Blasio said. “It made sense to do it in a situation that was clearly not in the middle of an ongoing protest.”
New York City police said in a statement late Tuesday that a warrant squad took Stone into custody on suspicion of damaging police cameras in five separate incidents. Surveillance video posted to Twitter by NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison appeared to show Stone using paint to obscure two different cameras and using a broom in an attempt to tear down a third.
The #NYPD welcomes peaceful protests.
However, damage to NYPD technology that helps keep this city safe will never be tolerated. These cameras are vital resources which help prevent and solve crimes throughout the city. pic.twitter.com/dwv5vkhQiP
— Chief Rodney Harrison (@NYPDDetectives) July 29, 2020
That evening, the hashtags #WheresNikki and #WhereIsNikki trended online as activists demanded to know why and where Stone had been taken.
The statement tweeted by the NYPD said the warrant squad “uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects.”
Police said Stone had been charged with criminal mischief and making graffiti for five such incidents over two months.
Regardless of the merits of the arrest itself, critics on Wednesday decried the manner in which police apprehended and detained Stone.
“I don’t know that this was really the most professional police conduct. I see an officer at one point with his hand on his gun. I think that’s in and of itself inappropriate,” said Frank Straub, a former police chief in Spokane, Washington, who now works for the National Police Foundation.
“You see an unmarked van pull up, you see people that are not identified as police officers grab someone and throw them in a van … when we know that is a point of challenge across the country,” he said, describing the “troubling optics” of the situation.