Committee to set goals on handling protests in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

A virtual Kalamazoo City Commission meeting on Aug. 18, 2020.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A little over 25 hours after Monday’s Kalamazoo City Commission meeting began, commissioners voted to create a subcommittee to give the city manager and police clear objectives on what constitutes a “successful protest.”  

Monday’s meeting comes on the heels of a violent protest on Saturday where counter-protesters clashed with the Proud Boys, marching near Arcadia Creek Festival Place in downtown Kalamazoo. Hundreds of people called in to the virtual Kalamazoo City Commission meeting to voice their displeasure with how the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety responded to the event.  

Some commenting accused KDPS of “running security” for the Proud Boys and demanded the resignations or firing of City Manager Jim Ritsem, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas and Mayor David Anderson.  

Monday night’s meeting was recessed just after 1:30 a.m. Commissioners had listened to three hours of public comment when they decided to suspend the meeting and come back fresh at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.  

City commissioners spent several hours Tuesday night discussing how they can hold city staff accountable. Early in the discussion, Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin noted, “there are not four votes to remove City Manager Ritsema” as several community members asked for. 

“Unfortunate things keep happening and we keep having these circular conversations,” Griffin told commissioners of her short time on the city commission.

Ritsema agreed with the commission that there are no defined benchmarks for city staff. He told them neither he or Thomas “know what a successful protest is.” He says city staff and KDPS developed plans and got nothing back from commissioners, but not everyone is questioning the plan. 

“We deserve it for our officers to know what expectations are,” Ritsema told commissioners.

Ritsema said he heard several things during public comments Monday night that could be implemented immediately.

“(But) if the bar and target keep moving protest to protest, that’s not fair,” Ritsema said.

Anderson proposed setting up a subcommittee to work on setting goals and benchmarks, not only for Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, but for all city staff. Ritsema asked the commission to prioritize and expedite work on the goals for “successful protests,” suggesting they have a plan together in 10 days.  

The next hour of the meeting was discussion on what this committee will look like and what the goals would be. 

Commissioner Chris Praedel asked if they could get input from public safety officers on the front lines of the protest and not just command staff. 

Commissioner Erin Knott asked that a progress report for KDPS be included in the short timeline, identifying people that took part in the violence and where they stand with issuing arrest warrants.

Commissioners agreed that work needed to be done quickly in case another protest pops up. Commissioners Eric Cunningham and Praedel along with Griffin volunteered to be on the subcommittee.  

Two and a half hours after the meeting resumed, commissioners voted to create the proposed subcommittee.

The committee will work over the next 10 days with city staff, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and the community to clearly define those goals. 

A report will be presented to the city commission Aug. 28 with the goal of putting it on the agenda at the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 8.

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