KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo police say their officers engaged with protesters Saturday evening only to free up cruisers that were surrounded.
The protest was otherwise peaceful, with people marching and chanting to honor George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police office knelt on his neck, and against police brutality. The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety says in excess of 3,500 people were there.
During a virtual Kalamazoo City Commission meeting Monday, KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas said the plan in responding to Saturday’s march was to keep protesters safe. She said the department has a Crowd Management Team for just such circumstances.
That team, wearing riot gear, engaged only once around 7 p.m., moving into the crowd at Michigan Avenue and the Kalamazoo Mall with batons. Thomas explained it was a diversion to move people away from two cruisers in the intersection.
“There was an increasing level of agitation with that group that had surrounded the officers” in the cruisers, Thomas told commissioners, going on to say that the officers radioed back to command asking for help to get out of the crowd. “Our main goal was to extract the public safety officers and hopefully those cruisers, too.”
She said when the offers in riot gear moved in, they distracted the crowd, which then moved away from the cruisers. Once the officers in the cruisers were able to drive away and the crowd kept walking again, the Crowd Management Team moved away, video released by the department shows.
“We only brought the Crowd Management Team in to handle that situation,” Thomas said. “Their total time of involvement in this five-and-a-half to six-hour protest was a little over 12 minutes. We had had them there over 12 hours that day in a staging area in case they were needed.”
She said that while she understands why the sight of officers in riot gear was probably confusing and alarming to some protesters, the team had a clear purpose that it achieved without any harm to anyone and without any arrests.
Thomas also said KDPS “mourns with the country the horrific death of Mr. Floyd,” adding her department respected the right to peacefully protest.