Eight volunteers of the Seattle-based Riot Kitchen arrested Wednesday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, have been released but law-enforcement officials continue to hold their three vehicles as well as cellphones and some other personal items, according to a board member of the nonprofit.
The volunteers drove a minivan, bread truck and black-painted school bus to Kenosha to serve free food during protests that followed the Sunday police shooting of Jacob Blake, according to Jennifer Scheurle, the board member.
Kenosha police made the arrests after they suspected the crew was preparing for “criminal activity related to the civil unrest,” according to a police statement that said nine people were charged with disorderly conduct and the contents of the vehicles included fuel cans.
The purpose of the cans of fuel has emerged as a key issue. Police said they made the arrests after watching some of the vehicle’s occupants try to fill up fuel cans at a gas station.
Scheurle says the fuel is used for a generator that provides power for the bus, which has bunk beds for sleeping. The generator also assists with cooking, she said.
Also found in the vehicles, according to the police statement, were helmets, gas masks, protective vests, illegal fireworks and suspected controlled substances.
Scheurle said the helmets, gas masks and the vests were for the crew’s protection. She said she was not aware of any fireworks in the vehicles, and that the controlled substance could have been marijuana.
“We were there to cook food,” Scheurle said.
The protests in Kenosha were spurred by the circumstances of the police shooting, which involved multiple shots to Blake’s back that his family said left him paralyzed below the waist. During the protests earlier in the week, arson fires burned buildings. They also drew patrols of armed citizens, including a 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with homicide in the Tuesday shooting deaths of two men.
On Wednesday, Kenosha police, in their statement, said law enforcement officers followed up on a citizen tip about suspicious vehicles with out-of-state plates.
The officers detained the occupants of the bread truck and van, and joined with federal law enforcement agents to force entry into the minivan after the driver tried to drive away from police, according to the statement.
The police arrests of those in the minivan was recorded in a video posted on Twitter and has been viewed more than 1.2 million times. The video has helped draw national media attention to the incident. And in the last few days, Scheurle said her group has received numerous death threats through social media.
All nine people arrested were charged with disorderly conduct, and “are pending charging decisions by the Kenosha County District Attorney,” according to the Kenosha police statement.
Scheurle said eight of the people arrested were with the Riot Kitchen crew, and that they all remain in Wisconsin as they await the return of the vehicles and personal items.
Riot Kitchen was formed this year to serve free vegan and other food during Seattle protests, and then expanded to provide nourishment at Portland protests. A crew was headed cross-country to Washington, D.C., to join in a Friday march there when the Blake shooting prompted a detour to Wisconsin.