On August 26, eight volunteers from a Seattle-based nonprofit called Riot Kitchen were arrested in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as protests continued throughout the Midwestern town in response to the local police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man.
Riot Kitchen — which began this spring as a small mutual aid organization feeding people free sandwiches, burritos, and chili in Seattle’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest area (CHOP) — posted a video on Twitter on Wednesday that claimed to show part of the arrest in progress. In the video, two unmarked vehicles stop a minivan at an intersection outside a gas station in broad daylight, after which several officers draw their guns at the passengers and order them to get out. One of the officers smashes a window with a baton to unlock the doors. Then the officers appear to pull out the passengers and take them into custody, before driving off, with one cop commandeering the now-empty minivan.
Riot Kitchen board member Jennifer Scheurle, who is still in Washington, told the Seattle Times that the group of volunteers were on their way to Washington, D.C., to attend a march, but changed their plans when they heard about the Blake shooting. According to Scheurle, Riot Kitchen’s intentions were to feed people protesting in Kenosha, and its volunteers had stopped at a gas station to get fuel for their generators. They were traveling in multiple vehicles, including a black-painted school bus and a bread truck.
On Twitter, the Kenosha Police Department issued an announcement about the arrest, claiming that officers acted on a tip about several “suspicious vehicles with out-of-state plates meeting in a remote lot.” After watching the vehicles’ occupants fill fuel cans, the officers concluded that they were “preparing for criminal activity related to the civil unrest” and moved on the three vehicles, assisted by federal marshals. The officers allege that the vehicles contained helmets, gas masks, protective vests, illegal fireworks, and “suspected controlled substances.”
According to the Seattle Times report, at least one volunteer was booked on a disorderly conduct charge and posted a $150 bond. The others face similar charges. On August 27, four of the passengers were released and four were still in jail. In a statement sent to Eater Seattle, Riot Kitchen said the following:
“Riot Kitchen has been busy trying to free our volunteer crew members in Kenosha, Wisconsin after a violent arrest at a gas station where our people refueled vehicles and got gas for our generator. We reject all claims that our crew was there to incite violence or build explosives — our nonprofit organization has always been and will always be about feeding people. Our crew was arrested by officers who did not identify themselves with drawn guns. Our volunteers were thrown into holding cells and kept for hours without water or blankets and denied phone calls to their loved ones. Right now, we are focused on getting everyone out safe.”
Not long after that statement was issued, Riot Kitchen announced on Twitter Friday, August 28, that all their volunteers had been released.
Demonstrators have gathered in Kenosha all week long after a local police officer shot Blake seven times in the back while he was getting into his SUV; the hospitalized 29-year-old is now paralyzed from the waist down. Just a couple of days after the Kenosha police shooting, events in the area took another tragic turn when a 17-year-old gunman (who is reportedly a staunch supporter of the police) shot three protesters, leaving two dead and one seriously injured.
The Kenosha protests follow months of civil unrest, with Black Lives Matter protesters across the country calling for change in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Here in Seattle, those protests haven’t abated since late May, and Riot Kitchen had been in the middle of them, feeding people near Cal Anderson Park in the CHOP before the area was cleared out.
The volunteer-based kitchen is raising money through GoFundMe to help start a food truck to serve the local community (more than $47,000 of a $52,000 goal has been raised so far) as it looks to continue to feed protesters, as well as anybody in need. Its organizers are now seeking money to help with bail.
UPDATED, August 28, 2020, 1:51 p.m.: This article has been updated with the announcement from Riot Kitchen that the volunteers who were arrested have been released.