Last month, videos showing federal agents snatching protesters off the streets in unmarked vehicled during demonstrations in Portland sparked outrage across the country, but law enforcement officials promised that these tactics would be coming to other cities. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, where massive protests have consumed the city for the past week, federal agents were also seen snatching protesters off the streets in unmarked vehicles.
New videos from Kenosha show protesters being arrested before the demonstrations even began, seemingly for no reason. The activists reportedly belong to a Seattle-based nonprofit called "Riot Kitchen," that serves food to protesters, and as of Thursday, some members of the group were still in police custody.
Cellphone footage that a bystander recorded showed a group of officers pile out of black SUVs and surround a silver Toyota minivan that belonged to the group in a planned attack. Some of the officers pointed guns at the activists while another officer bashed through the passenger window with what appeared to be a hammer and began pulling people out of the vehicle and handcuffing them, in what looks like a blatantly illegal operation. Some of the officers were wearing vests or uniforms that identified them as police or US Marshals, but many of them were in plain clothes.
About a half dozen members of the group were arrested, according to Riot Kitchen spokesperson Jennifer Scheurle.
The Kenosha Police Department said in a later statement that they began tracking the group after receiving a tip about "suspicious vehicles" meeting on the edge of town. While tracking the group, they say that they saw them filling up multiple gas cans at a gas station, which is why they made such an aggressive arrest.
"Suspecting that the occupants of these vehicles were preparing for criminal activity related to the unrest, officers attempted to make contact and investigate," police said in a statement, according to SF Gate and The Washington Post.
Riot Kitchen HQ just learned that our bus crew was arrested in broad daylight in #Kenosha today - kidnapped by feds in unmarked vans.
We are currently trying to find our friends who were just there to feed people.
Please share and donate for bail via Venmo riotkitchen206 pic.twitter.com/o2TDbohvFl
— riotkitchen206 (@riotkitchen206) August 27, 2020
Scheurle says that the group was simply putting gas in their bus and food truck when they were attacked by the police, and that it is "pure craziness" to suggest that they were planning on doing anything illegal with the gas.
"It's two giant vehicles and generators. We don't have guns, we don't have weapons. We're there to feed people. That's it," Scheurle said.
Nine people in total were arrested on disorderly conduct charges following the incident. Police claimed to have found helmets, gas masks, protective vests, and "illegal fireworks" from the vehicles of the people that they arrested. All of the items that the police claim to have been found are defensive items, aside from the fireworks, which have been used as projectiles in some recent protests. However, police also have a record of confiscating road flares and other safety devices and claiming that they are some sort of explosive device, so their statement should not be taken at face value until the evidence is shown.
Even if they were carrying fireworks, the fact that these people were tracked and targeted by federal agents for participating in a protest has many civil rights advocates very concerned.