Get in the Van: The Federal and Local Assault on Protests

Taylor Dorrell
The Columbus Capital
4 min readNov 1, 2020


Originally posted on July 31, 2020 on

The federal paramilitary agents occupying Portland and Seattle have been deploying chemical weapons, shooting protesters and journalists with “less-lethal” munitions, and beating protesters. In Portland, the federal agents were documented grabbing people off the street, putting them into unmarked vans, and allegedly driving them around until illegally interrogating them at a federal building.

More recently, a video of 18-year-old Nikki Stone being dragged into an unmarked minivan by a group of men in bullet-proof vests at the front of a Black Lives Matter protest quickly went viral online and spread fears that Trump had deployed federal paramilitary officers in New York City.

However, the NYPD quickly claimed responsibility for the actions and alleged that Nikki was “wanted for damaging police cameras during 5 separate criminal incidents in & around City Hall Park,” and went on to claim that the officers “were assaulted with rocks & bottles.” The video directly contradicts this claim and no evidence of Nikki’s alleged crimes has been released.

Both the federal paramilitary police and local Police Departments utilize the same methods against peaceful protests that often result in escalation. NYPD has used these methods throughout the George Floyd protests, even outfitting Taxi Cabs to act as undercover vehicles. The undercover NYPD officers who arrested Nikki are a part of a ‘warrant squid’ that patrols the city daily, consistently terrorizing residents and raiding homeless shelters.

The response of Columbus Police to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests with sonic weapons, tear gas, wooden bullets, and pepper spray — used against protesters, journalists, and even an Ohio congresswoman — garnered condemnation and escalated protests.

Just last month, a group of civilian clothed armed officers in unmarked vans jumped out to arrest a protester suspected of being a felon illegally carrying a weapon. Later, police started arresting protesters without cause or charging them with jaywalking, specifically targeting protest organizers (which isn’t the first time CDP has used arrests to intimidate protests). A Columbus Police Officer anonymously told the Columbus Free Press that this is being done to “end the protests” and as “retaliation”.

Like mayors across the US, Columbus Mayor Ginther eventually spoke out against escalation techniques used by the CDP, but has since justified each new case of force or arrests. A week after Ginther banned the use of chemical agents against peaceful protesters, Columbus Police pepper sprayed a large group of protesters and even targeted journalists standing out of the way.

City Council has continued to approve new police funds despite their own claims of wanting to demilitarize police, recently approving over $1 million in city funds to ‘up-fit’ police vehicles.

The tactics of undercover arrests aren’t new for Columbus. The ‘jumpout boys’, or CDP officers in civilian clothes and unmarked vans, have consistently terrorized black neighborhoods in Columbus. These tactics have been questioned and addressed after the killing of 23-year-old Henry Green in 2016 by CDP undercover police officers Zach Rosen and Jason Bare, who pulled up and jumped out shooting at Green for carrying a gun although Ohio is an open carry state.

These tactics are finally garnering international attention as they’re used against peaceful protesters; the United Nations has spoken out against police use of force against peaceful protests, stating, “A failure to respect and ensure the right of peaceful assembly is typically a marker of repression.” The US agreed with most of the guidance, but pushed back that it could be “beyond its competence and mandate and contrary to international law.”

The U.N. is also strongly condemning racist police violence with a proposed report on the matter. Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri, Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso to the United Nations Office said, “The international outrage caused by the tragic events that led to the death of George Floyd underlined the urgency and importance for the Human Rights Council to raise its voice against injustice and police brutality which African people and people of African descent are faced with every day in many regions of the world,”

Columbus City Council has approved police reform plans, but continues to approve police funding for things like surveillance technology and operation costs for a fleet of police helicopters. It appears, so far, that the city and state leadership continue to make symbolic gestures that have ultimately fallen short. Regardless of whether Trump sends federal agents, in the meantime, there is nothing stopping Columbus Police from continuing to utilize violent techniques and pursue unlawful arrests at protests.