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These Are the Photographs That Took My Freedom, and This is the Story of How It Happened



My name is Abe Van Dyke. I am a photojournalist who was arrested by the Milwaukee County Sheriffs department for being on Interstate 43 photographing protestors on 12/19/14 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is my story.

Friday started as any other day. I woke up and checked Facebook like anyone else and saw on the Coalition For Justice page that another event would be taking place.


I decided that once again I would go photograph the event and headed into Milwaukee, WI that afternoon. As usual I found myself rushed driving into the city from my home in Waukesha, WI as there are multiple construction projects on Interstate 94 as well as the side streets. I made my way in and parked near Red Arrow Park where protestors were gathering around 4pm.

While putting on my gear, I decided to grab my Nikon D4s along with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, 16mm f/3.5 fisheye lens, 50mm f/1.4 lens along with a Black Rapid strap and Think Tank Photo lens pouch I attached to my belt. A few weeks before I had posted a photo to my Instagram account of what I took to that protest.

A photo posted by Abe Van Dyke (@vdcphoto) on

I put on my Kevlar vest because I survived photographing Ferguson and quite frankly don’t trust anyone. I then took a gulp of water, grabbed my gloves and started walking towards Red Arrow Park where I could hear protestors who had already gathered.

Upon arriving I took my regular place setting photo.



When protestors began to march, I asked a fellow photojournalist as to where they might be heading. He believed they were going to the Safety building so I sent out a tweet. I try to keep an active, up to date feed going while covering news on my Twitter profile.

Shortly after this tweet I took a selfie and posted it to my personal Facebook account as I have done at many other events.


I photographed protestors marching in the middle of the streets throughout downtown Milwaukee.


As the crowd took an unfamiliar path, I continued to follow them as Dontre Hamilton’s mother Maria Hamilton and Nate Hamilton led the march going underneath the Milwaukee Area Technical College skywalk.


Upon arriving at the intersection of West McKinley Avenue and North 6th Street I sent out another Tweet.

I continued to photograph the protestors as traffic was stopped. Shown here is Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton who was killed by Milwaukee Police earlier in 2014.



Protestors turned on to West Fon Du Lac Avenue and began to march.



Seeing the opportunity for a unique photo of police following protestors from behind, I ran up an embankment to photograph from a pedestrian bridge and sent out a tweet.

Once I saw that protestors were going to be passing me, I took a moment and stopped to shoot from a pedestrian walking path on my way back towards the group.



At the intersection of West Fon Du Lac Avenue and the Interstate 43 on and off ramps heading North, protestors were told by leaders of the march to split into two groups.


At this point I followed the group heading towards the Interstate 43 Southbound entrance ramp.



At the entrance of the ramp, I found it to be empty as police had already shut down traffic in the area.


Protestors began to march up the Interstate 43 Southbound entrance ramp so I put out a tweet.



We reached the top of the ramp and stopped; I could see Interstate 43. I took a few more photos as Milwaukee Sheriffs arrived on scene.



Protestors decided to march onto Interstate 43 in an attempt to stop traffic.





When the Milwaukee Sheriffs started ushering protestors off the Interstate, I sent out another tweet.

Standing in the emergency lane, I turned around to see more Milwaukee Sheriffs pulling up behind us.


Milwaukee Sheriffs had begun arguing with the protestors while I took more photographs.


I moved my position back towards the wall.



I believe that protestors were instructed by Milwaukee Sheriffs to line up against the wall so I photographed them.


I noticed that more Milwaukee Sheriffs had arrived on scene and were blocking any exit from Interstate 43. You can see that one officer has zip tie handcuffs prepared.


I turned to my right and saw that protestors were being arrested.



While photographing two Milwaukee Sheriffs arresting a protestor, another protestor recorded the incident with a cell phone.


I overheard an officer asking another officer if the media was included and was told to arrest everyone. This is my last photograph before I was put in plastic zip tie handcuffs.


The timestamp of this photograph is off by one hour due to the fact that I never change my settings for daylight savings time. It was taken at 4:53:22PM on 12/19/14.


A Milwaukee Sheriff ordered me to put my camera down and I complied while replying “my name is Abe Van Dyke and I am a freelance photojournalist. My photos are sent in to Demotix which is owned by Corbis. I would like to speak with a NPPA lawyer because I am a photojournalist.” This is the best recollection of what I said to the officer. If he were wearing a body camera, this interaction will have been recorded.

The officer put zip tie handcuffs on me and led me to a Milwaukee Sheriff SUV – I was not read my Miranda Rights. I am not a lawyer so I do not know if they are obligated to do so.

I sat alone and a few minutes passed where my mind began to wander until an older protestor was brought to join me in the SUV. The officer said “you two can talk” as he left.

With a heart racing, I lost track of time talking with the older man who looked to be in his 60s. An officer came to get us after a while and brought us over to the group of arrested protestors sitting on the Interstate 43 South on-ramp. I was instructed to sit but with my camera strapped around my shoulders I was having a difficult time doing so without damaging it. An officer came and helped me by carefully putting the camera on my lap and I thanked him.

Sitting on the concrete I was now lumped in as a protestor being on Interstate 43. The officers were told by someone above themselves to arrest everyone – as I noted earlier – so I cannot blame them for following orders. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article claims that “according to Nathaniel Hamilton, he and some of the other demonstrators were gathered on a freeway ramp. When authorities told them to leave, police began to arrest people before they could disperse, he said.”

A tweet was put out by the Milwaukee Police Department.

We waited awhile and a mobile police vehicle was brought in to remove us. Women were separated from the men as they began to fill the vehicle. Once it was filled, a Milwaukee County Transit Bus was called in for the rest of us and we waited a bit more.

I noticed that a few people had gathered on the road overlooking the Interstate 43 Southbound entrance ramp. Here is a photo by Instagram user BIKOBAKER of the area where we were seated.

A photo posted by bikobaker (@bikobaker) on

When we arrived at the jail, my bus stopped inside of the secure car port. The other police vehicle filled with women was unloaded first. The women were searched and told to lay out their belongings on a table just outside of my window.

While sitting there, I noticed a protestor had slipped his plastic cuffs off and was carefully on his phone. I asked the protestor to take a photo of me and put it out on Twitter and Facebook. I knew that my friends and followers would be wondering what happened to me since I live tweet incidents like this in the past. He took a photo and posted it for me. On an editorial note, he took the liberty to name it the “justice bus” after a joke was made earlier.


Eventually the clock read 8:05PM inside of the bus and I was still waiting to get off. Every once in awhile the lights would turn off and the bus would need to be restarted again. This was much appreciated because the air vents cooled the bus that was full of people bundled up in winter weather attire.

Milwaukee Sheriff Officers continued to remove us from the bus one by one. Eventually it was recognized that protestors had access to their phones and that a few may have slipped their cuffs off. We were told that if we were already out of our cuffs to start taking off our attire and prepare to be searched. A few minutes later an officer spotted a protestor on his phone from outside of the bus. He and another officer came to the back of the bus and took away three protestors. From what I saw they were then moved up the line to be processed.

One protestor talked with an officer about how long it had been taking and the Sheriff responded “we’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.” This made sense, but it was a slow process.

After several hours on the bus, it was nice to be off. An officer directed me over and struggled to cut off my plastic zip tie handcuffs and even mentioned they were on a bit tight. I was instructed to sit on a bench alongside other protestors. During this process an officer questioned me.

An officer came up to me while I was sitting there. He noticed that I was wearing a kevlar vest and asked “do you wear body armor to all protests?”. I replied, “I am a freelance photojournalist who survived a week down in Ferguson. I don’t trust anyone”. The officer asked, “where did you get this from?”. I replied, “I got it from a local shop”. I am no lawyer, but I believe that is would be considered questioning even though I was at no point read my Miranda Rights. I was instructed to give up my bullet proof vest and camera to an officer.

At one point, an older male protestor spoke up and began to yell at the officers. He was promptly put into a cell and removed from the rest of us. As the time passed a few people were issued citations: one for “disorderly conduct” which carries a fine of $484.00 with no required court appearance. The second citation was for “Pedestrian/Bike on Expressway/Prohibited” which carries a fine of $178.80 with no required court appearance.

I believe it was around 10:30PM when we got our final warning and were told we would be leaving this secondary bull pen and into a cell. The cell we were in was roughly 6-7 feet wide and maybe 15-20 feet long. Not horribly cramped but it allowed 2 men to comfortably sit on the bench while two others stood.

We sat in silence and the two men I was with attempted to relax on the bench. At around 3am, we heard chants from another cell. Huddling at the door to the smaller bull pen, we could hear and see officers attempting to speak with protestors in their cells while they were chanting. This only lasted a few minutes but it seemed to pick up spirits. One officer came in and began to yell. He said something along these lines (I don’t have a perfect memory):

You’re on our time now. I don’t care how long this takes. You want to protest, keep it on city streets and stay off the f**king highways. That’s ours. If you keep this up I don’t care we’ll keep you until 5.

Around 6AM or 7AM a new officer came over to our cell door from the small bull pen. He proceeded to actually give us information and talk to us like humans. He explained that they planned to get the ball rolling again after 3rd shift had not done much. He explained they were overwhelmed after never dealing with a situation like this. He told us to be patient and that he hoped we would be out before 12PM noon. We thanked the officer for being nice to us and he moved on to the cell directly next to ours and talked to them as well.

We were let out of our small cell and taken into the main bull pen. Those who had been out there and allowed to drink water and use the phone were put into a two corner cells which were larger than the one I had just been in. We were instructed to sit on the benches. At this point I was just happy that I could get to a bubbler. I had last had a sip of water from a fellow protestor while sitting on the city bus somewhere around 8PM. Finally 12 hours later I was going to get water. I was so happy for something that I take for granted on a daily basis.

With 13 of us in the cell I’m sure was designed for less people, frustrations rose. A few members of this group were released. It proceeded this way until my name was called. The moment I heard “Van Dyke” I nearly jumped out of my skin. I made my way over to the door. It was opened by an officer and I was told to go over and see the nurse.

I walked over and began answering the information she asked. It was general things such as what are you allergic to, who is an emergency contact, are you suicidal etc. In the middle of it however an officer came over after saying my name again. The nurse said she wasn’t done, but the officer replied “he’s ready for release”. These were magic words to my ears. The nurse told me to go with him and that she wasn’t going to bother filling out the rest of the information.

I was told to stand against the wall behind a red line. While I stood there, the door to the second corner cell opened and out walked the friend of mine who gave me a sip of water on the bus and whom I’ve know for years. It was purely coincidental but it was just such a freak accident I could hardly believe it.

We were told to begin walking. I got to a door and the officer came over and pressed something to open it. On our left stood a male officer processing our paperwork. To the right stood a female officer who was in charge of discharge information.

I was called up first of the three men who were brought in. The officer cut off my plastic identification bracelet and confirmed my information. Next he held a pink form that he requested I sign which stated my name Abe Van Dyke, and that I am “hereby ordered to appear” at check marked “Out of Custody Intake Court Room 221, Safety Building 821 W. State Street Milwaukee, WI 53133″. My court date was set for 2/23/15 at 8:30AM.


I started pulling things out of my bag and put my kevlar vest on first. Next I pulled out my camera. It had been placed in this large garbage bag along with all of my other stuff. I immediately turned it on to ensure that my photos had not been deleted. They were not. I continued to pull things out out of a smaller baggie and put them into my pockets. Once we were all loaded up, I mentioned to the officer that I would like something to state that I was in the jail as well as the fact that I had never been given a copy of what I was being charged with. She printed off the information and gave me a copy.

Upon being discharged is the first time I officially knew what I was being charged with. I was give two tickets. The first ticket was for State Statute 346.16(2)(a) – Pedestrian/Bike on Expressway/Prohibited. The fine associated was $178.80 and no appearance was required.


The second ticked was State Statute 947.01(1) and Ordinance violated says 63.01 – Disorderly Conduct. The fine associated was $484.00 and no appearance was required.


My group of 4 was then told to go to the door at the end and we could leave. Myself, my friend, a woman and another man walked into a small hallway. I was the last one out and shut the door. During this time my friend took a selfie and I snuck into the photo.


Exiting the building was a wonderful feeling. I couldn’t believe I was finally out of there with, but my first instinct was to pick up the camera. I began taking photos as I walked towards the protestors waiting outside for us and others to be released. You can see a man pointing and smiling in the center because he recognizes me.


Upon leaving, I walked toward the crowd and was given hugs and handshakes by those who had become friends inside of the jail. I walked around a took a few photos of the food and water brought by Coalition for Justice protestors as well as a few other photos of the scene. The media was also staged outside and taking video of the scene.





I stopped at a police van and took a photo of my citation on the windshield and announced that I had been set free after nearly 24 hours of being in police custody.

I took my friend home and then after a round with social media and texting a few friends I called it a night around 9PM. I had learned that 73 adults and 1 minor had been arrested.

I woke up to see a few more comments and messages on my release. For the majority, people have been positive about my arrest though some have been negative which is to be expected. There was even a small #FreeAbe hashtag which made me laugh. One of the messages I received was from my friend who I was released with. It was my mugshot so I posted it for my friends to see on Facebook. The photo is from a website named Jailbase.


Clearly this is not my best photo, thought considering it was photographed with 3 track lights aimed from the ceiling, it could have been worse. Now begins the conversations and help from friends who know different lawyers. I appreciate all of their help and plan to move forward.

I do not blame police for arresting me initially. They were just doing their job and clearing the freeway. However, I had notified them multiple times that I was a member of the media and would like to speak with the NPPA lawyer. I came to find out today via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Journal Sentinel reporter Jesse Garza was among those arrested Friday night after he followed the protesters about a quarter-mile onto the freeway at Fond du Lac Ave. He was released after about two hours and not cited.

This is frustrating to say the least.

At this point I plan to reach out the the NPPA and seek legal counsel from them. I believe it has been demonstrated multiple times in court that it is not illegal to for journalists to stand in places that are illegal for others to stand in if there is a breaking news situation. A fellow journalist confirmed this with a comment on one of my Facebook posts and I will be asking any legal representation to look into this.

I was a photojournalist covering breaking news and was arrested. I was given two citations totaling $662.80 and marks on my permanent record. Like the Journal Sentinel reporter, I will be seeking that this incident is wiped clear and the citations removed.

My name is Abe Van Dyke. This was my story.

About the author: Abe Van Dyke is a Waukesha, Wisconsin-based photojournalist and the owner of VDC Photo. This article originally appeared here.