Tear gas and pepper spray: Kalamazoo residents tell of police mistreatment during summer protests

During a listening session on Monday, people shared their experiences with Kalamazoo public safety officers during rallies and riots last summer.

“I was just bulled over by their reaction. It made no sense at all to me.”

Those were the words of Michael Barker. He was one of dozens of people who called in to a virtual meeting Monday evening to share their experience at two sets of protests in Kalamazoo over the summer of 2020.

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He was speaking specifically of a rally by the far-right Proud Boys on August 15. Officers from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) were mostly absent from the rally until fights broke out between members of the group and local counter-protesters.

“It appeared they were there protecting the Proud Boys, letting them go, no license plates, not doing anything to question them, stop them, provide safety to the public,” he said.

Other speakers felt similarly. Noelle Massey said she remembers how long it took for KDPS officers to stop the fighting.

“It felt like forever, but I know it was several minutes of violence like that erupting in the streets, was a very long time,” she said. “I can’t even drive down those streets without having flashbacks of being maced with bear mace by Proud Boys.”

Despite the attacks by out-of-town instigators, no members of the Proud Boys were arrested. Ten other people were arrested, including a reporter and a legal observer who weren’t participating in the fracas.

Many commenters noted how different KDPS’s response to the Proud Boys rally was from its response to Black Lives Matter protests earlier in the summer.

“The restraint at the Proud Boys from KDPS should have been the same restraint, restraint and support, they gave to the citizens of Kalamazoo,” said Khadijah Brown.

Those protests in late May and early June were met with KDPS officers in riot gear. Many protesters were pepper sprayed as officers cleared the streets for a city-wide curfew on June 2.

“I question how safe can Black and brown residents really feel within the city of Kalamazoo when we know when we’ve seen in these two incidences that the police will not show up for us,” said Jacob Pinney-Johnson.

Monday’s listening session is intended to gather evidence for a larger investigation being conducted by the OIR Group.

The group will hold a second virtual listening session on January 25 at 6pm.

You can read more about the investigation on the city’s website.

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