New York police officers, several in plain clothes, swooped into a demonstration against aggressive police tactics Tuesday and arrested a protester they appeared to have singled out, pulling her into an unmarked minivan before driving off.
Videos of the encounter drew intense criticism on social media, including accusations that the New York police were adopting tactics similar to those used by federal agents during recent protests in Portland, Ore., where some people were pulled into unmarked vans.
The police department said in a statement that the woman had been taken into custody by officers from the warrant squad in connection with “damaging police cameras during five separate criminal incidents in and around City Hall Park,” an apparent reference to incidents that occurred during the Occupy City Hall protests. The police did not immediately provide details about those incidents. The arrest took place in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan, according to the police department.
The warrant squad typically uses unmarked vehicles to locate people wanted in connection with crimes, the police said. The police did not name the woman but said that charges against her were pending.
While the police indicated that they were following standard procedure, the incident comes at a time when law enforcement practices are under intense scrutiny. Several city officials said Tuesday that they were troubled by the videos of the woman’s arrest and publicly demanded a fuller explanation from the police department.
Corey Johnson, the city council Speaker, called video of the encounter “incredibly disturbing.” Scott Stringer, the New York comptroller, said he was “deeply concerned.”
Councillor Brad Lander of Brooklyn said that with the “anxiety about what’s happening in Portland, the NYPD deploying unmarked vans with plain clothes cops to make street arrests of protesters feels more like provocation than public safety.”
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio referred questions about the woman’s arrest Tuesday night to the statement from the police department.
The arrest was the latest flashpoint in a nationwide conversation about aggressive police tactics. For weeks since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, people have staged protests across the city against police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system.
The protest Tuesday at which the woman was arrested was held in response to the clearing of the Occupy City Hall encampment last week, organizers said.
The Occupy City Hall demonstration itself, which began June 23, when about 100 people set up camp on a small patch of grass to the east of City Hall, was intended to bring pressure on the city council to cut the police department’s funding.
Most people at the demonstration went home within days after the council decided to shift nearly US$1-billion away from the police, although the move fell short of many of the protesters’ expectations. Homeless people then flocked to the site for its free meals and open-air camping before the encampment was cleared last week.
The tactics used by federal agents in Portland have spurred renewed protests across the country. Some agents, dressed in camouflage and tactical gear, sprayed tear gas on protesters and pulled others into unmarked vans.
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