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Kalamazoo leaders debate police response to racist rally as residents call for resignations

City commissioners criticized how police handled a rally that turned violent Saturday in Kalamazoo. City residents called for city officials to resign during a marathon public comment session.

Kalamazoo Public Safety Officers were nowhere to be seen when violence broke out Saturday during a rally by a right-wing, neo-fascist group known at the Proud Boys. When police did show up, they arrested ten people, none of them members of that group.

Kalamazoo City Commissioners questioned that response Monday during a meeting that was expected to last late into the night and involve more than 100 comments from members of the community.

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City and county officials ultimately decided to drop charges against eight of the ten people arrested. One of those people was MLive reporter Samuel Robinson. Another was Vincent Schumacher, there as a legal observer on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild.

Commissioner Eric Cunningham was present during the rally.

“The overarching thing that I think our community took away is that [KDPS officers] were aggressive with our citizens and passively-aggressive with the Proud Boys,” he said.

Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema said he regretted officers’ actions.

“In hindsight, sure, we shouldn’t have arrested people from Kalamazoo and should have arrested Proud Boys,” he said. “We are looking back at the video to identify and follow up with charges if there is a need for that.”

City residents were unswayed. In a public comment period that lasted at least three hours, citizens lambasted the city’s response.

“I am extremely concerned with the absolute dereliction of duty that happened over the weekend,” said Kalamazoo resident Jex Judd. “I think it’s time that this city takes a real hard look at getting rid of Mr. Ritsema – asking for his resignation as well as [KDPS Chief] Karianne Thomas.”

Another commenter was John Royal, the president of the Detroit and Michigan National Lawyers Guild. That group had members present as legal observers, including the observer who was arrested. He said there was no excuse for such arrests.

“The purpose of [legal observers] is to observe interaction between police and protesters,” he said. “They are not part of the protest. They don’t carry signs, they don’t wear slogans on their clothing, and they don’t participate in chanting.”

You can view the full meeting here.