The NYPD says its Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to “effectively locate wanted suspects.”
New York police dressed in shorts and T-shirts grabbed a protester from a demonstration during an arrest Tuesday and put them in an unmarked minivan, video of the incident shared on social media shows.
The tactics were quickly compared to those of federal agents in Portland, where local officials have raised concerns over arrests they say are unlawful and without probable cause as videos there have similarly shown authorities seemingly swoop in and pull protesters from the streets into unmarked vehicles.
The New York Police Department said in a statement after video of the arrest was shared widely that the person taken into custody was wanted for allegedly damaging police cameras in five separate incidents. The department said it was its Warrant Squad that made the arrest Tuesday.
“The Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects,” NYPD tweeted.
Various videos show the incident occurred during a march down a Manhattan street in Kips Bay. Multiple officers grabbed the protester and struggle to the ground as other officers shout and run at others in the demonstration to push them back.
A group of NYPD bicycle officers then breaks into the crowd to form a line around the van and other officers as the arresting officers put the person in the unmarked Kia minivan. The van then drives away.
In an email to USA TODAY, NYPD said 11 people were arrested and that the protester in the video was facing charges of criminal mischief and graffiti stemming from incidents from June through July.
The Washington Post reported that authorities identified the person arrested as Nikki Stone, 18. Friends of Stone speaking with New York news outlet Gothamist identified her as Nicki and disputed police accounts of the incident.
In tweets, NYPD said its officers were “assaulted with rocks and bottles,” but Clara Kraebber, 20, told Gothamist, “None of that happened whatsoever.”
“We literally turned the corner and were met with a line of police who attacked us without warning,” Kraebber told the news outlet.
Carlina Rivera, a New York City councilwoman who represent the area where the arrest occurred, said the protester was released from the 1st Precinct overnight.
“It’s clear that using an unmarked van and plainclothes officers to make an arrest for vandalism (in the middle of a peaceful protest) is a massive overstep. I’m exploring legislation,” Rivera tweeted.
The incident quickly drew condemnation on social media from others. Some who shared the video likened it to kidnapping.
“Incredibly disturbing. We need answers,” tweeted Corey Johnson, New York City Council speaker. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that he was “concerned” about what was seen in the video and seeking answers.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who represents parts of New York City, added: “Our civil liberties are on brink.”
The arrest comes amid weeks of unrest in cities across the United States following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.
New York, like many other cities, has seen regular protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of Floyd’s death.
In Portland, where protests have gone on nightly, President Donald Trump deployed federal agents in response to the unrest, which he says is caused by “anarchists and agitators.”
Trump and other administration officials said federal authorities in Portland are there to protect federal property. Protesters and local elected officials say they have gone beyond that mission and are inflaming tensions with aggressive actions against demonstrations, including the use of pepper spray and less-lethal munitions.
The tensions in Portland drew more national attention when, similar to the arrest Tuesday in New York, video surfaced of law enforcement pulling protesters into unmarked vehicles and driving away.
“Unidentified stormtroopers. Unmarked cars. Kidnapping protesters and causing severe injuries in response to graffiti,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted in response to the incidents in Portland.
Department of Homeland Security Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, however, dismissed the issue of using unmarked cars as “so common it’s barely worth discussion.”
“Literally, every police department in America has them,” Cuccinelli said earlier this month.
Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
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