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UWP student describes harrowing jail experience
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UWP student describes harrowing jail experience

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UW-Parkside student Victor Garcia and a group of classmates had every intention of participating in a rally Wednesday night to support Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old man shot by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey.

But the college students never got to their destination, and instead quickly found themselves in a situation they didn’t anticipate with law enforcement.

And what followed, according to Garcia, was a long and difficult 24-plus hours while he waited for answers.

Garcia, a Kenosha resident, recounted his ordeal that had him in custody for what he called a curfew violation and “other possible charges” during a press conference Friday night in front of the Kenosha Municipal Building.

The press conference was hosted by the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and included a number of speakers before the group hit the streets for a march in support of Blake.

Garcia, 23, who is a member of the Students for a Democratic Society, said his group initially was stopped by federal agents, who at the time didn’t indicate they were law enforcement.

“They didn’t announce themselves, (had) guns draw, everything like that,” Garcia said in an interview after the press conference. “I was tackled to the ground, I had a gun in my face. From there, I was handcuffed, and it became clear they were law enforcement, and we were swarmed by seven other cars. Then we were all separated, taken and eventually handed over to Kenosha County police.”

With the events of this week, which have ranged from peaceful protests to violent riots and two shooting deaths, Garcia said not knowing exactly who was taking him to the ground led to plenty of instant anxiety about the situation.

“(I felt unaccounted for) almost immediately, when the first fear of (the officers) being white supremacists or these vigilantes that have been parading around our neighborhood,” he said. “It was clear I was a political prisoner at that point. No one read me my rights the entire time.

“Basically from the time I was arrested, I was not legally accounted for, because I was not processed until the following day. Anything could have happened to me.”

Lawyers helping

Garcia, who said his group was stopped for the curfew violation — which has been in place all week in response to the civil unrest — near Union Park. There were three others in his group, with one who evaded being arrested, and Garcia said they all have a court date in October.

“We’re working with a couple lawyers right now to help get those charges dropped,” he said. “I don’t really see anything wrong with exercising your First Amendment right. We’ll see what happens there.”

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As it turns out, the initial arrest was just the start of a difficult 24-plus hours for Garcia.

When he was first arrested at about 8:30 p.m., Garcia said he was taken to the Kenosha County Detention Center, where he was put into a jail cell with 14 other men.

“In a middle of a pandemic with no masks,” he said. “I wasn’t booked until the following morning at 8 a.m. so there was no record of where I was, if I was OK. I had no way of contacting individuals to get me out of there, so basically, I was held captive against my will by local law enforcement and the federal government.”

Emotional release

Garcia said he was taken from KCDC to the downtown facility, where he stayed until his release Thursday night at about 8:30 p.m.

When he was finally able to bond out, Garcia said he was overcome with a range of emotions.

“I just started crying,” he said. “I had spent 24 hours locked in a cell against my will, and I had not committed any crime other than a made-up curfew by the U.S. Government because they don’t want us exercising our First Amendment rights.”

As for what drew him back to the area, the press conference and any potential rallies or protests Friday night?

Garcia said he can’t give up what he believes in, no matter what circumstances he had faced just one day before.

“I felt it was important to strike while the iron was hot,” he said. “I’m scared right now. I was scared (Thursday) night. I’m going to be scared for a long time. It was a traumatic experience, I’m going to be completely honest.

“But I thought it was important to be a leader for this community and let these people know what these unmarked cars are like. We can read about it in Portland and wherever it’s happening, but to actually live through that experience, it’s almost mind boggling that it’s allowed in a country that parades freedom as its finest virtue because mine was stolen from me.”

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect, Garcia said, was that he felt betrayed by a community he grew up in.

“I love this community, and that’s how I was rewarded (for) standing up for people who are being unjustly killed and taken down by law enforcement,” he said. “I was locked in a cage.

“... You’re put in that situation as a caged bird, all because you wanted to go out there and have a voice for people who no don’t have voices. They strip you of your freedom, and you are treated like an animal. I was no longer a free American, I had a number, I had no name, I wasn’t a person.”

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