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Israel-Palestine war: Pro-Israel council member brings gun to New York Palestine solidarity protest

New York City council member openly carried a firearm at a protest Thursday and was arrested Friday
Council member Inna Vernikov stands at protest with a visible gun on her waistband (Photo supplied to MEE)

A New York City council member visibly carried a gun on her waistband as she opposed a pro-Palestine rally outside Brooklyn College on Thursday. 

After a photo of her carrying the gun went viral on Twitter, council member Inna Vernikov was arrested Friday morning and charged with criminal possession of a firearm. 

Israel has been bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing at least 1,300 Israelis and taking at least 100 Israelis hostage. The bombardment of Gaza has so far killed at least 1,799 Palestinians, with a large majority of them being women and children, and has wounded 6,888 and counting. But numbers are growing quickly due to the ongoing bombing campaign and a possible ground invasion looming.

While Vernikov, a Ukrainian-born Jewish Republican representing parts of Brooklyn, has boasted about having a concealed carry permit in New York City, her gun on Thursday was not concealed. In New York City, openly carrying a gun is illegal.

“Even with a conceal carry permit, you cannot bring a gun to a protest as it is considered a ‘sensitive location’,” Ali Najmi, a criminal defence and election law attorney told Middle East Eye.

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“It’s unlawful under Penal Law 265.01E,” he said. “The law specifically mentions protests under subsection(s). This is a class E Felony.”

Last year, Vernikov pulled $50,000 in funding that was supposed to go towards providing free law services for people in the district of the Cuny School of Law because its faculty endorsed a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolution. She accused the professors of antisemitism.

The BDS movement is a non-violent, Palestinian-led initiative encouraging individuals, nations and organisations to protest Israel's consistent violations of international law and human rights standards against Palestinians through a variety of boycotts.

The protest on Thursday brought out nearly 200 people, most of them students and professors from Brooklyn College, a campus surrounded by two more schools including a high school and an elementary school. Dozens of students from the nearby high school attended as well.

A day before the protest, Brooklyn College leadership put out a statement saying: “A group of students acting on their own called for a rally tomorrow to be held on our campus. That rally has now been moved off campus to the sidewalks of Bedford Ave, a public space that Brooklyn College does not control”.

Israel-Palestine war: Pro-Palestine supporters face threats and intimidation in New York
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When protestors arrived outside the campus, they were met with barricades and the presence of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Two NYPD helicopters were also swarming on top of the protest.  

The counter-protestors, those supporting Israel, stood on the other side of the barricades. Compared to the nearly 200 protestors, there were only 20, and one of them was Vernikov.

“She walked up to us and shouted ‘Hamas, Hamas, Hamas. Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists’ to our faces. She tried to cause a rampage, but it didn’t work,” a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Brooklyn College told Middle East Eye. 

Follow Middle East Eye's live coverage for the latest on the Israel-Palestine war

SJP organised the protest on Thursday. Two leadership members who spoke to MEE did so on condition of anonymity, as they feared for their safety. 

When people began to notice that Vernikov had a visible gun sticking out from the waistband of her blue pants, they started shouting: “Gun, gun, she has a gun!” According to the SJP member, the police did not do anything. She eventually put the gun away, but the damage had already been done, according to students.

“Many people felt threatened. Why is a council member coming in front of our campus with a gun? Why is she armed? Why is she showing it off?” the student asked. He said that it seemed like an "intimidation tactic". 

“Why was she trying to scare us? She was trying to inflict fear. Many people were afraid and felt their life was in danger,” he said. “We had so many high school students there as well.”

Shireen, who did not give her last name for safety reasons, attended the protest with her brother. Like many of the others, they had their faces covered with a keffiyeh. She told MEE that the protest felt cramped because of the barricades that were put up. 

“There was a lot of security. At some points, I felt suffocated because we were all stuck together between the barricades. When I found out Vernikov had a gun, I panicked. How could you not?” she said.

"She was trying to intimidate us."

Despite it all, the attendees believed the protest was successful. Later on Friday, they will join hundreds of others and protest in Times Square, where city officials announced that “every member of the NYPD will be ready and… in uniform”.

The New York State governor also announced that the state’s National Guard was ordered to patrol vital transportation hubs on Friday ahead of the protest as well. 

“We are fighting for Palestinian liberation. We are resisting the Zionist entity that is committing unspeakable atrocities on our people. They are committing genocide on our people. They are ethnically cleansing our people,” a student told MEE. 

“We stand with Palestine. And we stand against all forms of the Zionist settler colonial entity. We stand against ethnic cleansing and genocide. We are calling to protect our people’s right to resist.”

On Thursday, the Israeli army ordered around 1.1 million Palestinians in north Gaza to leave their homes within a 24-hour deadline, with no guarantee of their return. 

Palestinians have decried the bombing campaign as a "second Nakba", while many have said they will not leave their land. 

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