Police Brutality

Viral video of protester’s arrest shows regular occurrence for New Yorkers of color

Arrests by plainclothes officers in unmarked vehicles are common in low-income communities of color say some advocates and legislators.

Still from the video of Nikki Stone's arrest at 2nd ave and 25th Street.

Still from the video of Nikki Stone's arrest at 2nd ave and 25th Street. @MichelleLhooq/Twitter

A video of a young protester in Manhattan being hustled into an unmarked van by plainclothes NYPD officers has sparked outrage from lawmakers, liberal activists and police reform advocates. Many compared it to the actions of federal law enforcement officers in Portland, who have been recorded hauling off protesters in unmarked vehicles after failing to identify what agency they were from. 

But as shocking as the footage was, especially in light of events happening in other parts of the country, the sight was not a new one for many Black New Yorkers and other people of color. Similar arrests made by plainclothes officers are a common occurrence in neighborhoods of color. 

As lawmakers expressed their outrage over the video – City Council Speaker called it “incredibly disturbing” and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said he was “concerned” about what he saw and would seek answers – public defenders and Black New Yorkers were taking to Twitter to say this is nothing new. “This is not a new policing strategy - I mean, maybe for protests, but this is how NYPD polices Black and Brown neighborhoods,” defense attorney Rebecca Kavangh wrote in response to the viral video. State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who represents a largely Black Brooklyn district that includes Brownsville and Crown Heights, tweeted that the NYPD “does this in my district on the reg.”

According to the NYPD, the woman arrested, identified as Nikki Stone, had an arrest warrant for allegedly vandalizing police cameras on several different occasions. The officers who arrested her were members of the warrant squad, who regularly work in civilian clothes and use unmarked vehicles. Jenvinne Wong, an attorney with Legal Aid Society who leads its Cop Accountability Project, said that any public defender in the city probably has stories about clients who were arrested using tactics similar to those seen in the video. “I've had clients say they didn't realize that (the people arresting them) are officers until they're tackled on the ground,” Wong told City & State. “And then when they were in the back of the vehicle, they saw the badges and that’s when they realized ‘Oh, they’re cops.’” The difference is the arrests happening in Black and brown low-income communities are rarely recorded because they do not happen in the context of a crowded protest. 

Although Stone is white, she is a trans woman and is homeless. Police reform advocates say that the homeless and LGBTQ New Yorkers are disproportionately subject to aggressive policing. “We know that people of color and transgender people are at greater risk of police brutality,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement to ABC News. 

Wong said that the arrest in the video seemed unusual for the amount of force officers used for the low-level criminal mischief and vandalism charges Stone faced. Multiple cops can be seen wrestling her to the ground and manhandling her into a van, while additional officers used their bikes to keep protesters from getting too close.

Usually, Wong said, those kinds of tactics are used more often if someone is wanted for a felony, but added that doesn’t mean it never happens. “It doesn't have to be this violent, but, in many instances, NYPD warrant squads are this violent, and are this aggressive,” Wong said. 

And even if they are less aggressive, arrests made by warrant squads can still be unsettling, especially if someone doesn’t know they have an outstanding warrant. Wong described a situation where someone is walking down the street with a friend when a group of people jump out of a car, cuff the friend and drive away in an unmarked car. That happens with warrant squads, whose identity may be lost in the confusion of the arrest and who legally don’t have to tell the arrestee why they’re being arrested.

Myrie told City & State that in Black neighborhoods like those he represents, these types of arrests by warrant squads and plainclothes officers where people get taken away in unmarked cars after unexpected encounters, are “in the fabric of the community,” built on “years of practice.” He added that he doesn’t get the same complaints from the majority-white neighborhoods he represents. “This plays out, to no one’s surprise, very much like other enforcement efforts,” Myrie told City & State, like the city’s history of racist use of stop-and-frisk and the fact that people recently arrested for violating social distancing regulations have been disproportionately Black and Latino. 

Myrie expressed concern that police may begin using outstanding warrants as a way to target and arrest protest leadership in ways similar to federal officers in Portland – although, as of yet, there is no evidence to support this. But Myrie also cautioned against drawing too much of a parallel between the actions of the federal government and the arrest seen in New York City. “We have a tendency to… vilify the actions of this particular federal administration, and I have done so where appropriate,” Myrie said. “But when we do that, I think we lose the reality that this isn’t something that is new or necessarily attached to this administration. This is in the DNA of the New York Police Department.”

Myrie said he hopes that the energy and anger over Tuesday’s arrest – which also made headlines across the country and drew condemnation from Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey – will carry over to helping Black communities that have long experienced the kind of policing that sparked the outrage. But he said he first wants an acknowledgement from Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Mayor Bill de Blasio “of the brutality of this approach.”

That acknowledgement may not come any time soon. In a tweet Tuesday night the NYPD seemed to defend the aggressiveness of the arrest by claiming that protesters were throwing rocks at police. The department did not offer an explanation of why such a presence was needed to aid in the arrest of one person wanted for vandalism. Witnesses interviewed by Gothamist said no rocks were thrown. 

In a request for comment, an NYPD spokesperson referred to an interview Chief of Department Terrence Monahan gave WABC on Wednesday. Monahan said that Stone approached and tried to antagonize the officers waiting for a chance to arrest her away from the crowd. He said “at that point there was nothing else to be done.” Monahan did, however, express displeasure that Stone was able to identify the plainclothes officers as police. “It would have been better if they could have been a little less transparent while they were doing the observation on her,” Monahan said. He added that he was frustrated Stone was released soon after her arrest.

De Blasio also skirted the issue on Wednesday. “I think it was the wrong time and the wrong place to effectuate that arrest,” de Blasio said when asked about the arrest at a press briefing, adding that if someone vandalizes property, they must face the consequences. He did not offer an opinion on when the right time, place and method would have been to arrest Stone, nor did he indicate that any officers involved would be investigated. When asked about discipline, de Blasio replied “I don't think this is about the officers.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.