KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A far-right group and counter-protesters clashed in Kalamazoo Saturday afternoon.
The confrontation started just before 2 p.m. on E. Water and N. 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.
Officers say multiple groups were armed with a variety of weapons, including guns.
The police showed up, many of them wearing riot gear, within minutes and ordered the crowd to leave. Within an hour the peace was restored, and the area was clear.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Capt. Vernon Coakley said he is happy with how officers handled the situation, saying they respected everyone’s First Amendment rights. He said authorities only stepped in when things turned violent.
“Law enforcement was not seen or present until a fight occurred. People were fighting. And then we moved in to establish peace. That’s when we moved in,” Coakley said.
However, the police response was criticized by some activists. Later that evening, a peaceful protest was held outside the KDPS building.
“They still came push everyone out, walking around telling everyone this is their park, throwing up the white power sign saying Black lives don’t matter is that Kalamazoo was about that’s not what Kalamazoo about right. So, we are the leaders to come out and say that’s not what Kalamazoo is about,” said Quinton Bryant, one of the protesters.
Organizers say they feel authorities allowed the Proud Boys to incite violence earlier that day.
“You don’t wait until things get violent when you have a group that is known for violence,” said Michelle Iris Serlin, one of the protesters.
Around 10:20 p.m., protesters were blocking traffic and demanding police explain why they didn’t stop the Proud Boys before the violence began.
City Commissioner Eric Cunningham is on scene of the protest just after 11 p.m., talking on the phone with other city leaders. He says there will be a press conference with city officials Sunday, but he couldn’t immediately give more details.
Coakley said a few people were arrested, but didn’t know exactly how many.
MLive says one of its reporters, Samuel Robinson, was arrested on an impeding traffic charge. He has since been released. An MLive editor told News 8 they believe Robinson was “wrongfully detained.”
“The working press must be assured the right to cover public events, that clearly are in the public interest without reprisals,” said John Hiner, vice president of content for the MLive Media Group in a statement. “These situations are difficult for all involved — they are working it, just like the police.”
KDPS noted it developed plans to respond to peaceful protest, but also prepared if the situation turned violent.