Authorities address protest clash in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The day after a clash between a far-right group and counter-protesters in Kalamazoo Saturday afternoon, city officials held a press conference in response to the events that took place.

The conference began around 3 p.m. on Sunday at City Hall. City leaders only allowed media and a few members of the public into the press conference, citing effectiveness of the meeting and COVID-19 restrictions. It lasted for about an hour and 45 minutes.

The confrontation started just before 2 p.m. on Saturday on East Water and North Edwards streets.

Members of the Proud Boys, an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, were there for a planned rally. In response to publicity about the event, counter-protesters, including the People’s Defense League of Michigan, staged their own event in the area, police say.

When the Proud Boys arrived at the peaceful counter-protest already underway, fights broke out in the streets. News 8 crews saw people punching, kicking and even pepper-spraying one another.

Mayor Dave Anderson began Sunday’s conference, saying he wanted to make it clear that the city of Kalamazoo does not condone the hate-mongering or ideals of the Proud Boys. Anderson also said the city supports the Black Lives Matter movement.

KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas, laid out a timeline of events that happened Saturday. She confirmed that the Proud Boys arrived in Kalamazoo the night before the planned rally. She also said officers had information about the Proud Boys visiting the area about a month before the demonstrations, adding there was little information available outside of that. 

Participants on both sides of the protest were armed, police say. Thomas said there were a total of 111 officers in the surrounding area if things were to take a turn. She says there were several officers in unmarked vehicles and a sniper standing by.

Thomas says after receiving feedback from other protest events this summer, they took a hands-off approach. 

“We learned in review in early June that large scale presence of officers often created a contentious situation. We then changed our operation to allow for presence at the events but from the background and less visible, so that we do not become the target,” Thomas said. 

“Much of the feedback that we got was, ‘We never want to see the National Guard in our city again’ and so then we tried to base our operational plans about how we respond with different man power,” Thomas added.

Thomas says she deployed officers after the confrontation on Water and Edwards streets. She says officers were working to restore order until 2 a.m.

Black leaders questioned city officials and police about Saturday’s violence, saying police should have been more proactive given the Proud Boys’ reputation.

“It should have been a flip for how you address Black Lives Matter protests versus a Proud Boys protest, whose mission is literally to spew hate and waste city resources, to push their racist and hateful agenda,” said community activist Khadijah Brown.

Community members asked police why they refused to speak to them for several hours Saturday night following the rally. Thomas says their top priority at the time was restoring order. 

Thomas also mentioned the arrest of an MLive reporter who has since been released from custody. She says he was clearly credentialed and should not have been arrested.

“I apologize for the trauma that it caused to this young man. We all respect the sanctity of the press,” Thomas said. 

In total, KDPS said nine adults were arrested during demonstrations. There was also one juvenile arrested who was later released to parents.

Both counter-protesters and city leaders acknowledged the need for better communication in the future. 

“The trust factor and the camaraderie that we have in our city is very low. We have a poor rapport among each other. I think how do we go about bridging that gap and alleviating the trauma because that’s the key thing here,” said community activist Tamara Custard.

During the meeting, community members asked KDPS to release body camera footage from officers in or around the area where this all unfolded. The city says after they consult their attorney, they will work to get more footage of Saturday’s event onto their transparency page

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