'Horrifying Situation': ACLU Condemns Arrest Of Protesters By Officers In Unmarked Vehicles

Aug 28, 2020

Kaiden Schmidt is a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee majoring in physics. After the killing of George Floyd, he’s been hitting the streets, protesting for racial equity. Schmidt says it's his responsibility as a citizen of this country to do so. On Wednesday evening in Kenosha, he fled on foot from men in unmarked vehicles making arrests.

Schmidt says he met up with other protesters at a park. One of the protesters was Adelana Akindes, a 25-year-old environmental studies student at UW-Parkside and a member of Students for a Democratic Society.

"I knew that I had to go out and support, especially out of my place of privilege," says Schmidt.

It was roughly 8 p.m. when Schmidt, Akindes and two other protesters decided to head out to meet the larger march.

>>Kenosha Protester Released From Jail After Reportedly Being Picked Up In An Unmarked Vehicle

"We picked a small street, one that's not very big, no lights on it. And we're walking down that street. We make it three, maybe four blocks," Schmidt says they clearly looked like protesters. "We had our hair covered in bandanas, we're wearing helmets, wearing shields, because those are all important tools you need to protect yourself. So yeah, we're identifiable as protesters."

At around 8:15 p.m. on the poorly lit side street, Schmidt says he saw a black pickup truck pulling up from behind the group. Suddenly, he says, red and blue lights flashed, and the truck drove onto the sidewalk in front of the group, cutting them off. Schmidt says he doors of the truck flew open, and he wasn't able to make out who was inside. He heard two voices yell: "We're cops and don't even think about running."

Schmidt and the other protesters took off, and Schmidt outpaced the other protesters with him. He got away, while the others were picked up.

"That point I was the last time I saw those other protesters that night," he says.

Molly Collins, advocacy director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, says she is hearing multiple accounts of law enforcement in unmarked vehicles apprehending people in Kenosha, and protesters being detained and held a day or longer without a court appearance.

"We have heard this from a number of people," Collins says. "Folks have been reaching out to the ACLU for help finding people and to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund, which is a bail fund that's been helping people in Kenosha try to find their loved ones as well."

She says the accounts coming from protesters in Kenosha are comparable to accounts from Portland, Ore., earlier this month.

>>Federal Officers Used Unmarked Vehicles To Grab People In Portland, DHS Confirms

"I think it absolutely is similar and it's something that we're really working with our Oregon affiliate and our national office, trying to talk through what some solutions could look like for Wisconsin, because we're really concerned that things might escalate even going into the weekend," Collins says.

On Friday, the ACLU called on Gov. Tony Evers and state Attorney General Josh Kaul to investigate the actions of law enforcement in Kenosha during protests. 

“Federal, state and local law enforcement should be monitored to ensure that they are not violating the constitutional rights of protesters to free speech and assembly or unnecessarily escalating tensions on the ground," said ACLU of Wisconsin executive director Chris Ott.

WUWM confirmed what happened to Adelana Akindes — one of the three protesters who were with Kaiden Schmidt when he fled from the unmarked black pickup truck Wednesday night. She was in custody until late Thursday before being booked, then released on bail. The Kenosha County Jail cited an overcrowded jail for the reason for the delay.

But according to Omar Flores, an organizer of Milwaukee Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, while protesters were awaiting Akindes' release, more than a dozen unmarked vehicles without license plates — carrying officers with no badge numbers — descended upon the group and questioned protesters for being out past the 7 p.m. curfew. One person was taken into custody.

So far, law enforcement has been mum about the unmarked vehicles that are apparently being used to target protesters. WUWM contacted the Kenosha Police, Kenosha County Sheriff's Department, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Wisconsin, and none were able to comment.