A teenage transgender woman participating in a peaceful protest in support of Black liberation and civil rights was pulled into an unmarked van by New York police in Manhattan on Tuesday. The event has sparked outrage among protesters and city officials alike.
The scene of unidentified men pulling a woman into an unmarked vehicle is uniquely horrifying and video of her abduction fueled anger and fear for her safety on social media. ABC 7 New York spoke to one protester who saw the event:
Protester Christopher Salata says he knew the woman from their time together during the weeks-long sit in at City Hall Park.
“They grab her off the street as she’s skateboarding, don’t even put handcuffs on her... that’s just terrorism,” Salata said.
While what is happening in this video would be terrifying to anyone, it’s a scenario that seems particularly targeted towards terrorizing women. I urge anyone with trauma relating to kidnapping to use caution while watching it.
Here’s what the NYPD had to say about the event:
Despite NYPD’s claims, the videos posted of the event show no bottles or rocks being thrown as these men snatched up the protester and hustled her into an unmarked minivan, though clearly marked cops on Trek-brand bikes can be seen maintaining a perimeter around the kidnapping. The NYPD account linked above makes the laughable suggestion that suspicion of vandalism justifies throwing a teenager in a van.
But let’s say hypothetically, the NYPD officers and their vehicle was attacked, or more accurately bystanders tried to intervene when they saw a young woman get pulled into a van. If that had happened it might be in part because the officers weren’t wearing uniforms, weren’t reading their victim her rights and were pulling her into an unmarked van? That what they were doing looked like a kidnapping, the kind of thing any good human should intervene in?
These are not purely academic questions for women. This is real life and death stuff that we are required to think about every day. Here are just a few examples of women being abducted in vehicles across the country just during the first eight months of 2020: In January a woman was pulled into an unmarked van in Alabama where police found her in a cage. The van was also equipped with what the Washington Post describes as “instruments of maltreatment.” She was only saved because a bystander intervened and followed the van. In April, Detroit police engaged in a high-speed chase and arrested four men after an off-duty cop saw them pull a woman into a rented moving van. Also in April, police in Vallejo, California killed the driver of a van who had just dumped his fatally injured kidnapping victim. In July, a woman was abducted by a man who sped off in a minivan in Tuscon, Arizona.
Almost every woman has a story about a creepy guy pulling up in a vehicle and harassing her or worse, a story about a close call. In 2012, I was standing outside of a bar during a music festival in Hamtramck, Michigan. Just a few minutes after I left, two women would be pulled into a car and never seen again. Three other women were dragged into random vehicles and raped that same weekend.
Women have to constantly be prepared for something like this to turn our whole world upside down (and likely to be blamed for not being aware enough to foresee and prevent our own suffering if we are not.) I personally was trained since I was a small child to always stay at least 10 feet from anyone attempting to talk to me from an unfamiliar car. My dad taught my twin sister and me how to kick out a car’s brake lights from inside of a trunk so that we might signal for help during a kidnapping. I was 7 or 8 years old. Your training to protect your own life from the random violence directed at women is immediate and never really ends.
The threat is even higher for transgender women, who face not only the same violence directed at women but violence and discrimination directed at transgender people in general. According to a 2005 study, a full 50 percent of transgender individuals have suffered sexual assaults. A more recent survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality found 63 percent of transgender people said they face discrimination that disrupted their lives, such as homelessness, sexual assault or being fired for their identity. A quarter of transgender respondents reported facing no less than three such massive life-altering events
So yes, NYPD, if you drag women into unmarked vans, without cuffs or Miranda rights or any indication you are a legitimate police force (which, let’s face it, your legitimacy has been an open question for decades) you are going to get some push back. I hope a lot of push back—much more than your officers clearly faced in this scenario.
If I ever saw this happening, or if I myself were dragged into a van, I know I’d turn into a tornado of elbows and fists and groin-kicks. I would not stop until myself or the other person was free or I was incapacitated. It’s how I was raised, and it’s the moment we women have been preparing for literally all our lives.