Homeless Transgender Woman Kidnapped by Police After Appearing in Article
On July 8th, The Gothamist ran a story about New York City’s Abolition Park, an occupation by Black Lives Matter protesters of a plaza next to City Hall. The article highlighted a homeless transgender woman named Nikki who had taken up residence with the activists. She declined to share her last name with the reporter in fear of retaliation by more than just anti-protest activists, but as a trans woman, she new that she also risked being targeted by anti transgender extremists.
In the article, the 18 year old said to Gwynne Hogan of WNYC of life at the Park since the occupation began:
“I have never been so f*cking full and felt so healthy and felt so supported. Anywhere I go outside of here I’m a f*cking freak, being trans and skateboarding and wearing different clothes,” she said. “I’ve had transphobic slurs thrown at me for being in public. But here the first thing I get asked is, ‘What are your pronouns?’”
However, on July 28th, Nikki, who was walking across the street outside the Park, was suddenly grabbed by four men, restrained as she screamed for help and thrown into the back of a parked van. A few bystanders attempted to intervene as cameras of live streamers captured the event and broadcast it to the world.
Once forced into the back of the van, Police with bicycles surrounded the van to fend off other protesters attempting to approach them. Until the police, wearing bright green uniforms and helmets, demonstrated their defensive position of the kidnapping, no one knew who the violent attackers were- no one knew who was kidnapping Nikki.
A few hours, in response to the trending hashtag #WheresNikki, the New York City Police Department released a statement on the social media platform.
Nikki has been accused of damaging police cameras situated around the park that has been occupied by putting stickers on on them, a minor offense that would rarely require a squad of plain clothed police officers, an unmarked car and a fleet of officers with bicycles.
Nikki was unarmed. Nikki is not someone who possesses an intimidating or threatening physical stature. The police, undercover, approached her from behind and yanked her off of her skateboard. Her skateboard made her easy to identify in the area as she had remarked in The Gothmist column that she was often “Skateboarding and wearing different clothes.”
There are several hundred activists populating Abolition Park. It leaves one to wonder if the NYPD explicitly targeted Nikki after her appearance in the article raised her visibility, making her easy to recognize.
It took less than 40 seconds from the moment she was knocked off her skateboard until she was thrust into the backseat of the unmarked vehicle. While the NYPD statement claimed that Police had experienced “Rocks and bottles” thrown at them, the video circulated does not show these events occurring.
In the last few weeks, protesters on the opposite coast, in Portland have had the terrifying experience of being apprehended by plain clothed officers in unmarked cars snatching them from the street-side and shuttling them away leaving bystanders confused and afraid for their own safety. Already, cars have plowed through groups of protesters and one officer has been accused of weaponizing her vehicle against protesters.
Perhaps the scariest thing about these events, especially for a transgender women living in America, is that anyone can pose as a plain clothed police officer. Without requiring badges, clearly marked vehicles or the necessity of reading an arrested individual their Miranda rights, we’ve set a dangerous precedent. Transgender women face tremendous opposition in the United States and are the demographic of our society that experiences a disproportionate rate of violence and homicide. Acts such as this open the door for nefarious actors to posture themselves in the middle of crowds and kidnap transgender people- or any minority with tremendous social and political opposition- and be at their mercy. This happens in broad daylight as others look on and feel powerless to do anything about it. There is nothing that sets these plain clothed officers in unmarked cars apart from kidnappers with the intent to injure or kill the person they’ve targeted and swifted away.
What safeguards are in place to make sure people like Nikki are safe on the streets during a period of civil unrest? None. These people taken abruptly hostage immediately have their rights stripped of them and have to blindly trust that the individuals they find themselves in the violent grip of are actually authorities and not dangerous counter protesters believing they are on a patriotic mission.
As soon as the video of Nikki’s assault and abduction went viral, the thread was inundated with transphobic hate as users of the twitter platform wished her death, misgendered her, mocked her appearance and demonstrated the kind of vicious behavior that trans people online endure every single day upon logging in.
Throughout President Barack Obama's presidency, Republicans and radical conservatives bellowed about their fear of losing their guns (It never happened), their Second amendment rights being violated (It never happened) and the importance of upholding the constitution as written by America’s founding Fathers. These same gun advocates, once very vocal about the importance of our constitutional rights, are suddenly silent as unarmed, non-violent protesters, whose right to assemble- protected by the First Amendment- are beaten, arrested without due process and their rights stripped of them.
Some believe what we’re seeing currently is a dress rehearsal for Martial Law which will give Donald Trump unlimited authority to make and enforce laws that will likely target his critics and civilians exercising their democratic right to protest against an increasingly hostile government.