Eight volunteers from Seattle-based Riot Kitchen were ordered out of their vehicles and arrested by law enforcement officials soon after their Wednesday arrival in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where they had planned to provide free food to protesters, according to a board member of the nonprofit group.
A video posted on Twitter purports to show some of what happened during the daylight arrests. The officers arrive in what appear to be unmarked vehicles, and surround a minivan that had just fueled up at a Kenosha gas station and was carrying what board member Jennifer Scheurle said was a group of Riot Kitchen volunteers.
They set off on a cross-country journey planning to provide free food at a march scheduled for Friday in Washington, D.C. But news of the shooting of Kenosha resident Jacob Blake by a police officer caused them to change their plans, and the group’s van and a black-painted bus diverted to Wisconsin.
At least one member of the Riot Kitchen group arrested Wednesday was booked by city police into the Kenosha County Jail on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, according to jail records that note a $150 bond. Others in the group who were arrested face similar charges, said Scheurle, who stayed behind in Washington as support for the cross-country caravan and spent Wednesday evening trying to figure out what happened to the volunteers.
“We are a nonprofit and our mission is to feed people for free — protesters and everyone in need,” said Scheurle. “We were from out of town — but that’s not illegal.”
In the video on Twitter, officers move in on the Riot Kitchen van, guns drawn. Someone yells “Get the (expletive) out.” A uniformed law enforcement officer then swings a baton to shatter the glass of the passenger-side front window. The officer reaches inside to open the door, and people exit the van. An officer eventually gets into the vehicle and drives it away.
On Thursday afternoon, Scheurle said four of the Riot Kitchen crew volunteers had been released and four remain in jail.
The Kenosha Police Department tweeted that a citizen tip was received about several suspicious vehicles with out-of-state plates meeting in a remote lot. Police said in the statement: “Acting on this information Kenosha Police Officers located the suspicious vehicles and took up surveillance. Kenosha Police were assisted by the United States Marshals.”
Police say that they made nine arrests for disorderly conduct from three vehicles that included the school bus, the minivan and a bread truck. They say they observed the occupants of the bus and bread truck exit to fill multiple fuel cans.
Scheurle said that any cans filled with fuel would have been for legitimate uses, such as generators used in serving meals.
Police, who said the officers wore appropriate identification, said the minivan attempted to drive away, but that the police ultimately “forced entry” into the vehicle.
Police said the vehicles also contained helmets, gas masks, protective vests, illegal fireworks and suspected controlled substances.
The Wednesday arrests came on the heels of three volatile nights in Kenosha as protesters took to the streets to protest an officer’s shooting of Blake seven times in the back. Blake’s family says he is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Amid the demonstrations Tuesday, armed counterprotesters who said they were protecting property from looters arrived, including 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Illinois, now charged with homicide in the shooting deaths Tuesday of two men.
The Riot Kitchen video had been viewed more than 1 million times by Thursday evening, thrusting the group uneasily into the limelight. Scheurle said the group had received online death threats, and — out of safety concerns — she did not want to release the names of those arrested.
The Riot Kitchen formed to feed people during the recent Seattle protests, and had a kitchen at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, or CHOP. The group expanded its efforts to provide food at Portland protests and this month incorporated as a nonprofit.
The volunteers that arrived in Kenosha were part of a broader wave of people — both from the left and the right — drawn to Wisconsin in the aftermath of the shooting. In a statement earlier this week, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said that “much of the damage is being inflicted by people coming in from outside our community.”
Scheurle said the Riot Kitchen crew came to serve food, an action that she said can help de-escalate tensions.
“I have never been so scared for anyone. My friends got snatched by people … I couldn’t find them for hours,” Scheurle said. “This should not happen to anyone.”