NYPD officers grabbed a protester off the street in broad daylight

Michelle Lhooq

A viral video of New York City police officers, unidentifiable in shorts and t-shirts, tackling a protester and then shoving her into an unmarked white minivan went viral this week. The woman, 18-year-old Nikki Stone, was wanted because she had allegedly violated the law by destroying police surveillance cameras, the New York Police Department said. The video of police jumping out of a van, throwing Stone to the ground, and speeding off came after reports in recent days of unidentified federal agents snatching people off the streets in Portland, Oregon, and taking them away in unmarked vehicles.

Viewers can see in the video as three men tackle Stone and throw her into the van while NYPD bicycle officers form a barricade between the group of protesters attempting to aid her. Some protesters said that NYPD officers pepper-sprayed them in the face when they attempted to disrupt the arrest.

Almost immediately, the video drew scrutiny from civil rights organizations as well as from New York elected officials. The American Civil Liberties Union said on Twitter, "These dangerous, abusive, and indefensible actions must stop. Law enforcement must be held accountable." The Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBTQ rights organization, tweeted, "This is deeply troubling. Plainclothes NYPD officers yanked a protester off the street." Stone is a transgender woman.

The New York Times reported that Stone was released from jail Wednesday morning with a desk appearance ticket, which means that she could face misdemeanor charges for obstructing the NYPD's cameras. In response to the arrest, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said that he was "surprised that, especially at this time, the NYPD would take such an obnoxious action." New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) appeared more sympathetic to the department's actions, saying, "I think it was the wrong time and the wrong place to affect that arrest," but "if you damage property there will be consequences."

While it's unclear who the individuals are that confront Stone or whether they're law enforcement agents at all, the NYPD explained on Twitter that the arresting officers were from the department's "Warrant Squad." The Warrant Squad's main objective is to track down people who have a warrant out for their arrest, and by the department's own definition the team "uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects."

In practice, that apparently means that Warrant Squad officers can sneak up on people they want to detain and tackle them in the middle of an intersection in broad daylight. New York City councilmember Carlina Rivera further questioned the Squad's existence at all, tweeting, "In June we were told that plainclothes operations were no longer being used by the NYPD? We need answers on the larger issues at play here."

The Instagram account @JusticeforGeorgeNYC, which has been chronicling the protests and events of this year's civil rights movement since it began this spring, broke down the consequences of enabling police to track down people and engage in behavior that looks like kidnapping. The account explained that the tactic of arrest is similar to the no-knock warrant that Kentucky police used as justification to enter Breonna Taylor's home and kill her, saying that the NYPD's actions reflect "a force that believes itself impervious, that thinks it can act with impunity, because it has, over and over again."

The Warrant Squad, per @JusticeforGeorgeNYC, is especially active in Black and brown neighborhoods. The team has also arrested homeless people in shelters in the middle of the night to make arrests efficient, VICE reported in 2015.