New York Democrats and critics are calling on a Republican city councilwoman to resign after she was arrested for carrying a handgun at a pro-Palestinian rally on a Brooklyn college campus this week.
Inna Vernikov, 39, who is Jewish and represents southern Brooklyn, surrendered to police early Friday and was charged with criminal possession of a firearm. Vernikov turned herself in after images circulated online of her with a gun tucked into her waistband while at the Brooklyn College demonstration, a New York Police Department spokesperson told The Washington Post.
Vernikov filmed herself in front of a Thursday protest at Brooklyn College that was supporting the Palestinian people, saying she was part of a dueling pro-Israel demonstration to “support the Jewish students that are in school.”
But one of the Brooklyn College rallygoers told CBS News that he believed Vernikov, who serves at the minority whip of the New York City Council, was trying to intimidate Palestinian supporters by having a gun at the event. No one at the protests were injured.
Although the Ukrainian-born councilwoman has a license to carry a firearm, New York law prohibits individuals from carrying guns in “sensitive locations,” such as colleges, universities and at protests.
“New York’s gun safety laws apply to everyone,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who signed the new legislation last year, wrote on X in response to Vernikov’s arrest. A spokesman for New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) echoed the sentiment in a statement to CW affiliate WPIX: “Bringing a firearm to a protest or rally is against the law, and no one is above the law.”
Vernikov did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. Those in New York who are convicted of criminal possession of a firearm face between one to four years in prison and a fine up to $5,000, according to state law.
Police said Vernikov handed over her gun and permit license.
Since her arrest, New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has announced that the council has launched a probe into the circumstances of Vernikov’s arrest and had referred the matter to the Standards and Ethics Committee, of which Vernikov is a member.
Some Democrats have also called on the councilwoman to resign if she is convicted.
“This is the height of irresponsibility by an elected official during a dangerous and tense time for New Yorkers,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D), who represents the west side of Manhattan, wrote on X. “I hope the Council Member will be removed from all committee assignments and swiftly brought to justice, including removal from office if convicted.”
Democrat Amber Adler, who is challenging Vernikov’s city council seat in next month’s general election, has called on the council to expel Vernikov.
The city council’s nearly two dozen members of the Progressive Caucus took the calls for accountability a step further Friday when they asked the Standards and Ethics Committee to “begin an immediate investigation for expulsion.”
“Her willingness to endanger the lives of students cannot go unnoticed and without consequences,” the group said in a statement.
The arrest comes as the Israeli military said Saturday that it is preparing a “wide range of offensive operative plans” for Gaza, including attacks by land, sea and air, after warning the entire population of 1.1 million people in northern Gaza to move south within the Palestinian territory. The statement from the Israel Defense Forces comes despite U.N. warnings that the displacement would only worsen the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with soldiers on the Gaza border, said Saturday in a Facebook post that Israeli forces were “all ready.”
As tensions continue to rise with the war, the mood is also tense at protests and counterprotests in the United States over the last week. In Harrisburg, Pa., police are investigating a possible hate crime after someone showed up with a gun at a pro-Palestinian rally at the state Capitol on Friday night, according to NBC affiliate WGAL.
The Philadelphia chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights organization, pressed state and federal law enforcement agencies to charge the individual with hate crimes and ethnic intimidation.
Before coming to office, Vernikov ran an immigration and matrimonial law practice, according to her biography. She ran for office in 2021 and “flipped a seat that has been traditionally Democratic for more than one hundred years,” her website says. Vernikov has supported Mayor Adams and his backing of Israel in recent days.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D) said the councilwoman’s decision to bring a gun to the protest did not help those processing the “tragedy and grief overseas and in our city.”
“Council Member Vernikov carrying and showing off a weapon as a tool of intimidation and seeming threat of violence against protesters shows a dangerous dereliction of our duty as elected officials to help New Yorkers be and feel safe,” he said in a statement. “I am relieved that she has now been charged for this action and surrendered her permit.”