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Vernon Coakley Takes Charge Of KDPS; Demonstrators React To Trump On Proud Boys

A young woman holds a sign that reads "Coakley, you could be a hero." She is facing a busy street with the gray-clad Radisson Hotel in the background. The street is wet and Custard is wearing a clear plastic poncho.
Sehvilla Mann

Kalamazoo’s public safety department has a new leader. Vernon Coakley, a former assistant chief, was promoted after Karianne Thomas stepped down. She faced intense criticism for Public Safety’s response to several events this summer, including a rally of the far-right group the Proud Boys that ended in a clash with counter-protestors.

Corianna McDowell of Kalamazoo co-organized a rally for just policing in downtown Kalamazoo yesterday.  

“I’m hoping that Chief Coakley, being an African-American in this leadership role, that he really hears our voice, that he really understands where we come from and that we start making some changes in Kalamazoo, the city and the county as a whole,” she told WMUK.

Another organizer, TC Custard of Kalamazoo Township, held a sign that read, “Coakley, you could be a hero.”

“Today marks a fresh start for Chief Coakley, and it’s important for us as leaders to make sure we hold him accountable as well,” she said.

McDowell, Custard and other participants condemned President Trump’s remarks on the Proud Boys during the presidential debate Tuesday. Trump said the group should, quote, “stand back and stand by.” He later claimed he’s not familiar with the Proud Boys.

Three people stand at the edge of a street, holding signs that read "Justice for Breonna," "No justice, no peace! Honk for Breonna," and "justice for black lives."
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK
Demonstrators braved wind and rain.

“It did shock me that out of all groups and all racial hate groups he decided to pick them out,” McDowell said. “It was very disturbing.”

“The reality is, democracy is at an all-time low,” McDowell said “Last night completely showed it.”

“We’ve had militia groups come into Kalamazoo and tear our city apart,” she added. “Nothing is surprising anymore from [Trump]. And that’s why it’s important for us to go out and invoke that right and make sure that November 3rd we show up and we show out.”

Demonstrator Andrew Gray of Kalamazoo criticized Trump for failing to condemn white supremacy during the debate.

“All he had to say was four words, ‘I denounce white supremacy,’ in all its forms,” Gray said. “He couldn’t do that. What does that tell you about him?”

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.
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