NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The detention of a prominent immigration activist sparked a large protest in Lower Manhattan that ended with the arrest of two City Council members Thursday.
Ravi Ragbir showed up at the Javits Federal Building for a check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and was taken into custody.
When supporters gathered in Foley Square heard the news Ragbir’s friend, who calls himself Rev. Billy, said, “A lot of us started crying and then after that we got angry.”
Ragbir apparently fainted when he was told he was being detained and he was taken out of the federal building in an ambulance.
Demonstrators gathered in the square apparently tried to stop the vehicle.
“It’s very rare that you could see the vehicle that people leave this building from. There are tunnels underground and they’re quite secretive,” Ragbir’s friend and fellow activist Savitri Durkee said. “We had this rare opportunity to try and stop a vehicle leaving, which we almost never do in New York City.”
The situation turned physical and the police made a number of arrests, including City Councilmen Ydanis Rodríguez (D-10th) and Jumaane Williams (D-45th), who was captured on video by Buzzfeed News being cuffed against the hood of a car.
In a news release, Williams’ office said officers “forcefully removed” the peaceful protesters. The release showed a photo of Williams bent over the hood of a car with his hands behind his back and being held by an officer.
A Facebook post by Rodriguez’s office accused officers of using a “chokehold.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said it “got crazy” when ICE agents emerged from the building and claims he was shoved and that Rodriguez was put in a headlock.
“A peaceful gathering in support of immigrant rights activist turned needlessly violent at the hands of ICE agents and some members of the NYPD,” Johnson said. “The behavior I witnessed from ICE agents and select members of the NYPD was totally unacceptable.”
Johnson said he had a 10-minute conversation with the local head of ICE and “no progress was made” before the incident. He said he and others who were not blocking the ambulance containing the detainee were roughed up, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
Johnson told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb the protest turned “needlessly violent” at the hands of ICE agents.
“I was shoved and I was not obstructing anyone. I was not blocking anyone. I was not resisting in any way. I was shoved,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he was shoved by an NYPD officer, and when he asked for the officer’s name and shield number, the officer took off. But a City Hall staffer followed him and got the ID.
He said he called the police commissioner to lodge a complaint and the conversation lasted less than a minute.
Meanwhile, the NYPD Lieutenants Benevolent Association put out a letter to its membership accusing the councilmen and protesters of blocking the ambulance and jeopardizing “the wellbeing of a potentially critically ill individual.”
The letter by union President Lou Turco called Rodriguez and Williams “reckless.”
“I am calling on Mayor (Bill) de Blasio to immediately initiate an investigation into the reckless actions of two NYC Council members who placed their selfish political agendas before the wellbeing of a person in obvious need of medical attention,” Turco wrote. “The actions of these two civic representatives were so myopic that they escalated their irresponsible and self-serving behavior by physically resisting arrest.”
Turco wrote that Mayor de Blasio must explain to the city and especially to the NYPD “why members of the City Council, people who draft and create policy for the City of New York, feel so self-righteous that they can endanger individuals from receiving emergency medical attention and physically resist police officers to selfishly promote their own agenda.”
Ragbir was convicted of wire fraud 16 years ago, successfully fought deportation and has since become a visible activist.
Rev. Billy describes Ragbir as “a marvelous leader of the idea of being free Americans.”
“His story is kind of a perfect storm of bumbling bureaucracy combined with Trump’s hard-lined hate and fear,” he said.
Williams, Rodriguez, and 16 other protesters remained in police custody at the 7th Precinct late Thursday. They will be charged with disorderly conduct.
It was not clear late Thursday whether the councilmen and other protesters would be issued desk appearance tickets or go through the booking system.