The videos of the chaotic scene, which bore a marked similarity to the controversial tactics used by federal officers to detain demonstrators in Portland, Ore., quickly went viral. Protesters who witnessed the incident described it as a “kidnapping,” while a number of New York’s elected officials, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), decried the officers’ actions and publicly demanded further explanations from the NYPD.
“Our civil liberties are on brink. This is not a drill,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “There is no excuse for snatching women off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans.”
(This video contains explicit language.)
The police department confirmed in a statement on Twitter that its officers had used an unmarked van in the arrest, adding that the woman who was taken into custody was “wanted for damaging police cameras during 5 separate criminal incidents in & around City Hall Park.”
In an email to The Washington Post, authorities identified the protester as 18-year-old Nikki Stone, who has also been referred to online as Nicki. Police said Stone is facing charges of criminal mischief related to the five incidents and will be receiving a desk appearance ticket.
“When officers from the Warrant Squad took the woman into custody in a gray NYPD minivan this evening, they were assaulted with rocks and bottles,” Tuesday’s statement said. “The Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects.”
But the protesters who were present on Tuesday evening disputed the NYPD’s version of events, insisting that they did not physically engage with the officers, even at the time of the arrest.
“None of that happened whatsoever,” Clara Kraebber, a 20-year-old Oxford student, told Gothamist. “We literally turned the corner and were met with a line of police who attacked us without warning.”
Kraebber said officers pepper sprayed the group “seemingly at random” during the arrest, adding, “They were trying to make it painful to be there.”
Another witness told Gothamist that the protesters had been “skateboarding and eating pizza” before the van’s unexpected arrival.
“We didn’t see where they came from,” the witness said. “All of a sudden they grabbed Nicki. It was like a kidnapping.”
Stone’s arrest was captured in multiple videos that circulated widely on social media Tuesday night.
In one clip, a group of protesters, some of whom are riding bikes and skateboards, are making their way down the street before the camera pans to one of the officers roughly grabbing Stone several feet away from the van.
As a handful of protesters start approaching, an officer repeatedly shouts, “Get back!” and charges on foot at those getting too close.
Within seconds, more police flood the area, using their bicycles to create a barrier between the van, where the officers are still…