Kalamazoo releases initial policy report after demonstration clash

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — In the wake of the mid-August clash between a hate group and counter-protesters, the city of Kalamazoo has started laying out a plan for handling future demonstrations with a focus on increased communication.

City Manager Jim Ritsema, Mayor David Anderson, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas and KDPS Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley held a virtual press conference on the matter Monday afternoon.

They announced the preliminary findings of a Kalamazoo City Commission subcommittee that was formed to review the response to the clash and set guidelines for handling future demonstrations. A draft of that report is now available on the city’s website.

The report set a few initial recommendations, including creating a communication strategy with community input; exploring other options to more clearly communicate with the public; developing training for media, legal observers and city staff in regards to protests; and communicating and working with surrounding areas to provide aid.

The subcommittee said it will keep looking into several other items, like what the city can do about permitting or setting conditions before future protests, where community input is critical in moving forward, how the city responded afterward and KDPS tactics.

Violence broke out Aug. 15 between members of the Proud Boys and local counter-protesters. People from both sides were armed, police say. News 8 crews saw people punching, kicking and even pepper-spraying one another.

While officers were staged in the area before the brawl began — poised “at a distance” at the request of counter-protesters in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, Thomas explained at the Monday press conference. Coakley said it took officers about three minutes to intervene.

Ten people, including an MLive reporter and a juvenile, were arrested, but the city attorney and county prosecutor declined to pursue most of the cases. So far, one person, Travis Anderson, has been charged with resisting and obstructing after allegedly punching an officer. Thomas indicated more charges may be forthcoming against others.

The subcommittee’s preliminary report suggested clearer policies and more training for KDPS officers on interacting with the media and other legal observers. The city attorney is expected to provide further details on best practices by Sept. 4. Officials also said they would create a credentialing system and provide training for members of the media.

“We don’t want a repeat of what happened,” Thomas said.

She said a credentialing system would help clearly identify reporters to officers during “chaotic” situations.

The MLive reporter did repeatedly tell the officers arresting him that he was with the media, but Thomas said the officers didn’t hear him. Coakley said the logos the MLive reporter was wearing were “very small.” He pointed to a reporter from the Detroit Free Press who had large and clear identification as an example of what was easier for officers to recognize.

Coakley says the investigation of the protest is still in its initial stages and more video footage continues to be reviewed. 

“People came into it from the counter-protesters and began to initiate the contact with the Proud Boys. This is still a fluid investigation,” Coakley said. 

The department says it is also looking into the Proud Boys’ use of pepper spray. 

Pastor Nathan Danisson, who organized the original non-violent counter protest at Arcadia Creek Festival Place, released this statement to News 8:

“I hope this means that the Kalamazoo police will protect the citizens of Kalamazoo from Neo Nazis like the Proud Boys,” Danisson said. 

Anderson, Thomas and Ritsema all made comments denouncing hate groups during the briefing. 

“Hate has no place in Kalamazoo or southwest Michigan. As mayor, I strongly denounce the Proud Boys and other hate groups that promote racism and seek to instigate violence and mayhem through their words and actions,” Anderson said. 

Subcommittee members will present their work to the full city commission Sept. 8.

— News 8’s Kyle Mitchell contributed to this report.

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