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How Preparations For A "Combustible Event" Got "Turned Around"

File photo of law enforcement during the Proud Boys March in downtown Kalamazoo August 15, 2020
John McNeill

Ever since the Proud Boys clashed with counter-demonstrators in the streets of downtown Kalamazoo on August 15, 2020, the Department of Public Safety has faced criticism for its handling of those events. Now a report from independent news outlet has raised new questions about KDPS’ preparations for that day.

Journalist Ben Lando writes for Now Kalamazoo that public safety gathered intelligence about both sides in the weeks before the rally, then seemed to toss much of it out the window, potentially skewing officers’ view of who posed a threat.

In an interview with WMUK’s Sehvilla Mann, Lando says city officials knew that there is often violence at Proud Boys events. Sometimes the white nationalist group instigates that violence, Lando says - they “throw the first punch”. However, he says the Proud Boys will often try to lure counte- protestors into a scrum where they are attacked first, or it’s not clear who started the fight.

Lando says the likelihood of violence was clear. He says a review of instructions given to Kalamazoo Public Safety officers and other law enforcement agencies that day shows a disconnect. Lando says

“Somewhere between the research and operational decisions for that day, something got turned around.”

Documents show that officers were told that the risk would likely come from counter-protestors. However, Lando says there was virtually nothing to back up the claims that the threat of violence was likely to come from those protesting against the Proud Boys, rather than from the far-right group itself.

The response to the Proud Boys rally and to how law enforcement handled Black Lives Matter protests in Kalamazoo last summer are the subject of a report from the OIR Group. Kalamazoo Public Safety took a low profile at the start of the day. Lando says the experts he talked to say that doesn’t make sense when a “combustible situation” is imminent. Lando calls it “an extremely heated day in a summer where 400 years of history were coming to a head in protests around the country, and Kalamazoo was no different."

"There was always going to be this powder keg that was at risk of a small little spark blowing it up.”

The City of Kalamazoo said in a written statement it’s working on making the changes suggested by the OIR group in its report on events last summer. The city says it’ll have more details at a September 7 Commission meeting.

Disclosure: WMUK helped to edit a late draft of the story.

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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