KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety on Tuesday released video from bystanders and police body cameras showing the series of skirmishes involving members of the Proud Boys hate group and counter-protesters.
The videos show various angles of what KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas described as three main skirmishes between the two groups in downtown Kalamazoo on the afternoon of Aug. 15. The first lasted about a minute, the second about 49 seconds and the last about 34 seconds.
While Thomas said the Proud Boys clearly came to town with the goal of provoking people, KDPS noted that the counter-protesters showed up to downtown armed with batons and bats and at least one person with what Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley described as a “shank.” Members of the Michigan People’s Defense League, which says on its website that it protects communities from fascists, were also on hand armed with long guns. No shots were fired at any point.
Police said the first act of physical aggression was from a counter-protester who threw some sort of frozen drink at a Proud Boy. Then another person entered the crowd of Proud Boys, blocking them, and the situation devolved from there.
Members of the Proud Boys used pepper-spray, which police said was legal as a method of self-defense, as punches were thrown. At least one person was knocked unconscious in the first fight.
Coakley said he entered the crowd, found the organizer of the counter-protesters and told him to tell his people to leave. His bodycam footage showed that.
The fight broke up and the Proud Boys kept marching. The second skirmish happened farther down the road.
KDPS identified the first person who entered the crowd, a homeless man who was aligned with the counter-protesters, as being a primary instigator in at least the first two fights.
After a short standoff in Bronson Park, the Proud Boys went to a nearby parking garage, at which point police ordered them to leave. Some counter-protesters blocked the Proud Boys’ cars from leaving and disrupted traffic on Michigan Avenue. KDPS said it wanted them to leave quickly to end the confrontation. Counter-protesters were held back so they could leave. Thomas said the Proud Boys were out of town in 90 minutes.
In explaining KDPS’s response plan, Thomas said the department made a “strategic decision” to have a less obvious police response as it learned of the Proud Boys march and counter-protest, with the goal of preventing the situation from escalating. She noted that during protests in Kalamazoo earlier in the summer, the presence of officers in riot gear ratcheted up tensions.
Thomas said her department would be reviewing what happened and learn from it. She said she ‘welcomed’ the report from a City Commission subcommittee offering recommendations on policy changes going forward.
KDPS also released bodycam video of the arrest of an MLive reporter and another legal observer. Thomas previously apologized for those arrests and on Tuesday reiterated that there would be additional training for her officers on identifying legal observers and further discussions with media organizations to prevent similar situations.
Officials said a recording of the virtual press conference and copies of the videos shown will be available on the department’s transparency website as early as Wednesday.
Though police arrested several people the day of the protest, the city attorney and county prosecutor declined to pursue most of the cases. Only one person, Travis Anderson, has been charged with resisting and obstructing after allegedly punching an officer. Thomas has indicated more charges may be forthcoming against others.