Police reason with then tear gas protesters in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — About 40 minutes after curfew fell in Kalamazoo Tuesday, police launched tear gas and arrested at least two people to get a small crowd of demonstrators downtown to go home.

Minutes before, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley knelt with demonstrators in a sign of solidarity and started to lead them out of the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Park Street, telling them that anyone who stayed would be teargassed. Just about everyone chose to stay.

Right after the tear gas was launched, one person was arrested.

Demonstrators fell back to a different intersection along Park Street and police moved up their line. Police kept advancing their line, urging protesters to leave.

Around 7:50 p.m., a News 8 crew saw officers taking one more person into custody. He was told he was arrested because he was in violation of curfew.

After that, it looked like most people had cleared out.

Earlier in the day, protesters had been standing across the street from a line of police officers, but as curfew neared, they approached to face them only a few feet away in the intersection. Authorities warned protesters they may use tear gas to get people to disperse if they stayed.

Shortly after the 7 p.m. curfew went in effect, Coakley addressed the crowd, telling them that he respected their right to peacefully protest but that standing in the middle of the street was not safe.

“I’m asking for the corners (of the street),” Coakley said.

He also reminded them that the police officers on the scene were people just like them, but said he had to ask them to move back.

“This is not a safe space,” Coakley said.

Around 7:10 p.m., more Michigan State Police troopers in riot gear and with bicycles arrived, forming a line. They were also wearing gas masks.

Around 7:15 p.m., protesters started shouting George Floyd’s name and chanting “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter.” A few minutes later, many went to their knees in a sign that they did not want to leave.

Police formed a second line on a second side of the intersection, still leaving two sides for protesters to leave.

Shortly before 7:30 p.m., Coakley again asked people to peacefully disperse. Some protested shouted over him, but others said to let him speak.

“I am asking you, the people, the demonstrators, to leave this intersection,” he said.

He gave them 30 seconds to start leaving.

At 7:29 p.m., officers launched some sort of smoke into the intersection. It didn’t seem to deter protesters much. They chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

It was after that Coakley knelt with the protesters.

The 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew runs for a week. It was instituted after police received information that there are agitators planning to incite violence during protests planned for Tuesday. The curfew can be dropped or shortened if the situation allows.

The Michigan National Guard and the Michigan State Police were called in to assist in enforcing curfew.

Starting at 4 p.m., officers established a “peace zone” in the downtown area. Some streets will be closed and people will be informed that they need to leave city streets and sidewalks by 7 p.m. The peace zone will be bounded by Michigan Avenue, Portage Street, Lovell Street and Park Street, police say.

During the curfew, people are not allowed to walk, run, stand or use any mode of transportation on city streets, alleys, roads, highways and public properties.

Those exempt from the curfew include those traveling directly to and from work or seeking emergency medial care. Law enforcement, fire, medical personnel, appointed officials by duty or office and credentialed members of the news media are also except from the curfew.

Violations of the curfew could result in serving 90 days in jail and a fine up to $500.

KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas said six people were arrested on eight charges after Tuesday’s vandalism. One officer was injured, and two police cruisers were damaged. Vandals damaged or looted more than 25 businesses, including Lana’s Boutique.

Authorities also responded to three suspicious fires overnight, including a fire at a vacant building in the city’s north side neighborhood.

KDPS says it supports the right to peacefully protest and for everyone to have their voices heard. Members of the community are asked to comply with the curfew and peace zones for everyone’s safety.

The city of Portage also instituted a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, but only through Wednesday morning.

Anyone with information regarding criminal activity that happened Monday is asked to contact the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety at 269.488.8911 or Silent Observer at 269.343.2100.

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