A viral video of New York City police officers dragging a protester off the street during a demonstration Tuesday raises new concerns about policing in America. In the video, plainclothes officers grabbed a demonstrator in the middle of an intersection and, in broad daylight, wrestled her into an unmarked van. CBS New York reports that the 18-year-old woman was wanted for spray-painting the lenses of six police cameras. Other uniformed officers with bicycles also intervened during the arrest.
The startling scene in New York is reminiscent of the situation in Portland, Oregon, where menacing, militarized federal officers have been patrolling protests in the city. One difference is that in New York, the officers were part of the New York Police Department, not deployed by the Department of Homeland Security. The NYPD confirmed the arrest and said the officers were part of its warrant squad, which uses unmarked vans to locate people involved in crimes. “In regard to a video on social media that took place at 2 Ave & 25 St, a woman taken into custody in an unmarked van was wanted for damaging police cameras during 5 separate criminal incidents in & around City Hall Park,” the statement said. “The arresting officers were assaulted with rocks & bottles.”
It’s unclear whether the “rocks and bottles” claim is true, but it has increasingly turned into the blanket justification for any police action, no matter how severe, against protesters, much like officers use the “feared for their life” as a defense for offensive, often deadly action. It’s hard to disprove and shifts the onus of responsibility away from the police for their actions. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called the encounter “incredibly disturbing.” Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn tweeted that with “anxiety about what’s happening in Portland, the NYPD deploying unmarked vans with plainclothes cops to make street arrests of protestors feels more like provocation than public safety.”
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