A pro-Israel council member in New York City was arrested on Friday after she was seen carrying a gun at a pro-Palestine rally outside Brooklyn College on Thursday, sparking outrage and condemnation from the protesters and other officials.
Inna Vernikov, a Republican council member who represents parts of Brooklyn, openly displayed a firearm on her waistband as she confronted the protesters who were calling for an end to the Israeli aggression in Gaza and the occupation of Palestine.
The protesters, who were mostly students and faculty members from Brooklyn College and nearby schools, waved Palestinian flags, wore keffiyehs, and chanted slogans such as “Free Palestine”, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, and “Israel is a terrorist state”. They also held signs that read “Stop the genocide”, “Boycott Israel”, and “End US aid to Israel”.
The rally was part of a global day of action that saw similar demonstrations in cities across the world, such as London, Paris, Berlin, and Sydney.
Vernikov, who is Jewish and has spoken out against pro-Palestinian supporters, was in attendance as a counter-protester. She claimed that she had a concealed carry permit in New York City, but her gun on Thursday was not concealed. In New York City, openly carrying a gun is illegal, especially at sensitive locations such as protests or school grounds.
According to police sources, Vernikov was observed with the butt-end of a handgun protruding from the front portion of her pants while observing the protest between noon and 2:45 p.m. on Thursday. She left the location and was contacted by the police later. She turned herself in to the 70th Precinct around 2:50 a.m. on Friday, accompanied by her attorney.
She was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a firearm, a class E felony. She surrendered her gun and her firearm permit, and was given a desk appearance ticket.
Police sources said that no one was menaced or injured as a result of her possessing the firearm at the protest.
Vernikov also posted a video of herself speaking outside the protest on Twitter. She accused the pro-Palestinian protesters of being Hamas supporters and apologists who wanted to “rid the world of the Jewish people”.
However, her video did not show her gun, which was visible in other images and footage that circulated on social media. Many people expressed their shock and anger at Vernikov’s action, calling it irresponsible, reckless, and intimidating.
“At today’s rally on Brooklyn College campus led by the students in their SJP chapter, Inna Vernikov showed up showcasing a gun to Palestinian students and their allies,” CUNY4Palestine tweeted along with one of the images. “These are the tactics of force and intimidation used by Zionist groups to silence any support for Palestine.”
Some officials also called for Vernikov’s removal from office, saying that she violated her oath and endangered public safety.
“This is unacceptable behavior from an elected official,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “Council Member Vernikov must be held accountable for her actions.”
Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson also condemned Vernikov’s conduct, saying that it was “deeply disturbing” and “antithetical to our values as an institution of higher education”.
“We are committed to fostering an environment where all members of our community can express their views peacefully and respectfully,” Anderson said in an email to the college community. “We do not tolerate any form of violence or intimidation on our campus.”
Vernikov did not respond to requests for comment from various media outlets. Her attorney also declined to comment on the case.
The protest on Thursday came amid the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has killed at least 1,900 Palestinians and wounded more than 7,600 since October 7. Israel launched its offensive after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing at least 1,300 Israelis and taking at least 100 Israelis hostage.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the situation in Gaza and call for an immediate ceasefire. However, previous attempts to broker a truce have failed, as both sides have rejected each other’s conditions.