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Kalamazoo Leaders Urge Peaceful Protests

John McNeill

Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson is asking protesters in Kalamazoo to remain peaceful as more marches and demonstrations are planned following the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers in Minneapolis.

UPDATE: Violence did break out in downtown Kalamazoo late Monday night. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that windows of some businesses on the downtown mall were smashed as Public Safety officers used tear gas to disperse vandals. Other acts of vandalism were reported in Oshtemo Township. Kalamazoo City officials have a news conference planned at 11 a.m. Tuesday to talk about the incidents. Kalamazoo County officials have declared a local "state of emergency" because of the violence. A citywide curfew is in effect from 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, to 5 a.m. Wednesday, June 3 and Michigan National Guard troops will be deployed to help local police. Kalamazoo officials said Tuesday that they have received reports that more violence could occur. 

Before the violence erupted, Anderson said that he hoped demonstrations would continue to be peaceful.

"Express your feelings and your concerns and your grief and your anger as vociferously and directly as you feel that you need to do. But let's please not put other people at risk. Let's not take this opportunity to perhaps destroy things that folks have taken time to build up for this community."

City Commissioner Eric Cunningham says there's no need for destructive protests.

"You know, that's not what anybody who is my color or my complexion is calling for in this community. What we are calling is action."

Cunnigham and Anderson spoke during the Commission's regular meeting on Monday, June 1.

Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema says city officials are sympathetic to calls for action to end police brutality.

"We stand in solidarity with protesters that are protesting legitimate concerns, deep-seated concerns, and we want to be there with them side-by-side."

Kalamazoo’s public safety chief says the appearance of some officers in riot gear at a demonstration Saturday may have been misinterpreted. Some protestors say it was an attempt to provoke the crowd. But Karianne Thomas says the crowd management team's only mission was to distract the crowd and extract officers inside two cruisers surrounded by protesters.

"There was an increasing level of agitation with group that that surrounded the officers. The officers related their situation to the officers back in Command asking for assistance."

Thomas says the team is trained in ways to descalate tense situations and is among only a few of its kind in the state.

At their meeting, city commissioners blamed social media for spreading misinformation about the incident.

Thomas says as many as 4,000 people took to the streets Saturday to protest Floyd's death.

"I'd like to highlight that we had zero injuries to protesters, zero injuries to officers, zero arrests that night, that entire day. No pepper spray, no tear gas was deployed, no damage to property."

After her presentation to commissioners, Thomas and Ritsema headed for the city's Emergency Operations Center to monitor protests Monday night. They followed other events earlier in the day, including a "silent" demonstration downtown.

A group of African American leaders in Kalamazoo is also calling for peaceful protests against systemic racism and police brutality. On Facebook Live Monday, June 1, they said destroying businesses would only hurt the black community. Mattie Jordan-Woods directs the Northside Association for Community Development.

"We have to makes sure that whatever happens, that we’re still standing. Destroying the Northside is not an option."

Stores in some cities around the country have been burned or ransacked during violent demonstrations.

Reverend Addis Moore is the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Kalamazoo.

"We definitely don’t want violence, vandalism and looting in our community. So that’s kind of the thrust of where we are today."

But Moore says he’s glad there have been peaceful demonstrations in Kalamazoo against racism and injustice.

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.
Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.