A homeless transgender woman participating in a New York City protest against police brutality Tuesday evening was snatched off the street by plainclothes officers and taken away in an unmarked van.
Police say the protester, 18-year-old Nikki Stone (some sources say Stoneman), was wanted on charges of damaging police cameras, but her fellow demonstrators contend the arrest was more like a kidnapping. They say it's eerily similar to what officers from the federal government have been doing in Portland, Ore.; Donald Trump has threatened to deploy these officers in other cities. Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, and other politicians have condemned the action as well.
Stone spent Tuesday night in police custody and was released Wednesday morning, New York TV station WCBS reports. Her friends protested all night outside a New York Police Department precinct in the Tribeca neighborhood.
Stone was one of 12 people arrested Tuesday evening. Protesters were marching and feeding homeless people around Second Avenue and 25th Street when the police showed up. The arrest was documented on video that has been widely shared on social media.
"They grabbed a transgender woman and they threw her down," protester Mike Laster said, according to the station. "I tried to separate myself from the officer and the protest, and he threw his bike on me. ... I'm just cut all up on my hands and stuff."
"You cannot do this unmarked, undercover," said another protester, Ann Larson. "You have to identify yourself. It's kidnapping."
Protesters said their action was entirely peaceful until the undercover police showed up. The NYPD said its officers were attacked while making the arrest, something several protesters disputed, although Laster said, "If you introduce violence to us, we got to reciprocate that violence."
Some of the demonstrators initially thought the arresting officers were from the federal government, like those in Portland, but it was later confirmed they were from the NYPD. Officers on this squad do use unmarked vehicles, police said.
Brian Boyd, a counterterrorism expert, told WCBS that is a legitimate police tactic. "It's legitimate. When they went up and made the arrest, they identified themselves as police officers," he said. "A warrant squad is there to find and catch criminals or people who are wanted for committing crimes. And the only way you can do it sometimes, in a large group like that, is to do it undercover."
But several prominent politicians said the arrest was ill-timed, at the very least. "A lot of us have been watching in pain what's going on in Portland, Ore.," Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday, according to the TV station. "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. ... I think it was the wrong time and the wrong place to effectuate that arrest."
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the arrest was "incredibly disturbing," Vice reports. Other public officials speaking out against it included Congressman Nadler and City Council member Brad Lander.
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David also issued a statement denouncing the arrest. "Last night, plainclothes NYPD officers yanked a young transgender woman, Nikki, off the street in broad daylight," he said. "This incident, along with many others of unidentified officers arresting people and taking them away in unmarked vehicles, is part of a frightening pattern being perpetrated across this country. 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. As we support Nikki, we must also remember Layleen Polanco and Tony McDade, who lost their lives while in prison and at the hands of law enforcement, respectively. 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."