On Tuesday evening, an unmarked gray van pulled up alongside 18-year-old Nikki Stone as she skateboarded near the front of a protest march in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan. Five plainclothes police officers then jumped out, tackled Stone to the ground, threw her into the van, and whisked her away, per videos posted to social media.
As the van holding Stone began to drive away, bicycle-mounted police descended on the surrounding protesters, the videos show. Protesters say the officers pepper-sprayed them and made forceful arrests. The ambush took the marchers by surprise, they said; Tuesday’s demonstration—a “24-hour march,” which included planned activities like a teach-in and a film screening—had been non-confrontational until then. When Stone was arrested and police confronted other marchers, the group was leaving a skateboarding event and heading to a meditation event.
To many, the scene was reminiscent of recent events in Portland, Oregon, where federal agents deployed to the city have been caught on video nabbing protesters and taking them away in rental vans. But the officers in this car were local—part of an NYPD warrant squad, which “uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects,” according to a police statement on the arrest posted to Twitter. The statement said Stone, who was released from custody early Wednesday morning, had damaged “police cameras during 5 separate criminal incidents in & around City Hall Park,” roughly three miles from where the arrest took place. The statement does not specify when the alleged incidents occurred. Police also claimed that the “arresting officers were assaulted with rocks & bottles,” despite there being no video evidence to back up their assertion.
Elected officials in the city were quick to weigh in on the incident. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Scott Stringer both said they were “concerned”; Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, called a video of the arrest “incredibly disturbing.”
Meanwhile, to many protesters who were at the march, Stone’s “kidnapping,” as some have described it to The Appeal, is a terrifying update to what they fear is an emerging trend in their city: the retributive targeting of abolitionist activists.