Activists protest KDPS handling of Proud Boy rally

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Activists held a protest Saturday, calling out the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety for its handling of last month’s Proud Boys rally that turned violent.

The Aug. 15 event involved several brawls between members of the Proud Boys, an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and counter-protesters.

Roughly a month later, organizers of Saturday’s protest had a clear message for police.

“We feel very let down. We don’t feel protected,” protest organizer Tamara Custard said. “There is no trust, but we want to have that working relationship with (police).”

KDPS has since defended its decision to have officers hang back the day the Proud Boys came to town, only getting involved when violence broke out between the hate group and counter-protesters.

Protesters at Saturday’s demonstration wished police had taken a more proactive approach.

“If you had more of an action plan, knowing that they were coming well in advance, this would’ve never played out the way that it played out,” Custard said.

On Tuesday, KDPS released video from bystanders and police body cameras showing the series of brawls involving members of the Proud Boys hate group and counter-protesters.

Police said the video clips released show counter-protesters initiating the violence, while noting the Proud Boys clearly came to town with the goal of provoking people.

Custard stands by the counter-protesters’ actions that day.

“I believe that with that group coming to our city with the intentions of destroying, I believe that we were well within our rights and our frustration to react the way we reacted,” she said.

Among the people that stopped by Saturday’s protest of the police response, was KDPS Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley.

Coakley wasn’t dressed in uniform, but in a Michigan State University jumpsuit, making it clear he was there as a community member.

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley stops by protest about the department's handling of a Proud Boy rally. (Sept. 12, 2020)
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley stops by protest about the department’s handling of a Proud Boy rally. (Sept. 12, 2020)

Coakley didn’t stay long, saying he just dropped by to say hello.

While there, he talked to protesters about the importance of collaboration and unity between law enforcement and the community when it comes to resolving this rift.

Coakley made it clear there were lessons KDPS learned from the incident, saying there could’ve been more dialogue with the community leading up to the Proud Boys arrival.

“We’ve talked about those lessons to be learned,” Coakley said.“(In the future) We would come together as a community to talk about those things.”

Custard said they’ll continue to protest KDPS until there’s change, planning to peacefully gather for similar demonstrations every Wednesday and Saturday evening outside the Kalamazoo County courthouse.

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