On Tuesday, July 28th, videos began circulating on social media of an 18-year-old trans woman, Nikki Stone, being grabbed by a group of plainclothes New York Police Department officers and shoved into an unmarked van during a protest in Manhattan.
In a tweet, the NYPD said Stone was was “wanted for damaging police cameras during 5 separate criminal incidents in & around City Hall Park.” Per Gothamist, Stone was released shortly after midnight on Wednesday, July 29th, and faces multiple counts of vandalism and criminal mischief for five incidents between June and July. They include allegedly spray-painting graffiti in various locations around Manhattan and painting over four NYPD surveillance cameras near the former site of the Occupy City Hall encampment.
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
Stone was arrested as a group of about 200 people were marching near 26th Street and Second Avenue as part of a 24-hour demonstration against the NYPD. In its initial tweet about Stone’s arrest, the NYPD claimed that the “arresting officers were assaulted with rocks & bottles,” though several witnesses disputed that account to Gothamist. One protester, Clara Kraebber, said, “None of that happened whatsoever. We literally turned the corner and were met with a line of police who attacked us without warning.” According to social media accounts run by on-the-ground journalists, Stone was released in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The footage of Stone’s arrest recalled similar videos from the recent protests in Portland, Oregon, though instead of unidentified federal agents dragging protesters into unmarked vans, this arrest was carried out by an NYPD division called the “warrant squad.” The NYPD tweeted that the warrant squad “uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects.”
As the division’s name suggests, the NYPD’s warrant squad is focused on suspects with outstanding arrest warrants, though news reports over the years indicate they’ve frequently targeted vulnerable populations and people with minor offenses. In 2015, Vice published a detailed report about the warrant squad raiding homeless shelters in the middle of the night across New York City.
“Pick any building in New York,” Brodie Enoch, a director at the organization Picture the Homeless, said at the time. “I guarantee someone in there has an open warrant out for them. So why aren’t they getting their door smashed in? Why are they only doing this to the homeless? … Because we have no voice. We’re always the guinea pigs.”
Perhaps even more relevant to this moment: In 2012, The New York Time reported that the warrant squad was going after people with extremely low-level violations, such as open-container alcohol violations. Those who were targeted said that when police arrived, they seemed more intent on gathering information about Occupy Wall Street protests planned for that May Day.