Protesters against police violence hit with racism, but not tear gas

Nearly a year since George Floyd was killed and a new phase of protests against police violence began, much remains to be done, Kalamazoo protest organizers said.

There were the racist taunts and a vehicular assault, but Kalamazoo Public Safety said the march against police violence was peaceful. 

Protesters came to downtown Kalamazoo Friday night following a week of reminders that non-violence is not always the case: it began with Minnesota police fatally shooting Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, a dozen miles from the final days of testimony in police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for the May 2020 killing of George Floyd. The night before the rally, video was released from the deadly shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by Chicago police.

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“It’s unfortunate that the tragedy and trauma that we feel as Black people and we go through has to be shared and so visible,” said Ryan “King Ryan” Singleton, director of Uplift Kalamazoo, which organized the protest. Uplift grew out of last summer’s protests against police violence following Floyd’s killing, where Kalamazoo area police in riot gear used tear gas to end rallies. “Whenever these national tragedies happen, it is very important that we take that energy and we focus on what we can do locally.”

Local actions includes community service, such as Uplift Kalamazoo's weekly meal deliveries to poor and homeless populations around Kalamazoo, as well as calling on local police to change their ways starting with accountability and transparency, says Ryan "King Ryan" Singleton.
Local actions include community service, such as Uplift Kalamazoo’s weekly meal deliveries to poor and homeless populations around Kalamazoo, as well as calling on local police to change their ways starting with accountability and transparency, says Ryan “King Ryan” Singleton. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

For two hours, more than 100 people rallied around speakers and marched, sometimes with police escort that blocked roads for safe crossing. That didn’t discourage at least one driver from running into the very people demanding protection from violence.

“Unfortunately, that’s not an uncommon thing to happen at protests,” said Quinton Bryant, who attended the protest and co-organized one on April 12.

A red Jeep drives into protesters at the corner of W. Michigan Ave. and S. Rose St. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

NowKalamazoo asked Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety if there had been any arrests or if an investigation had been opened into the incident, but a spokesperson did not reply in time for publication.

A physical assault wasn’t the only time community members opposed the protesters’ message. As the march continued, three people in an apartment building shouted “all lives matter” and derogatory comments used by people who appear to support police violence.

Onlookers from apartments at heckle the anti-police violence protestors. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)
Onlookers from apartments above heckle the anti-police violence protesters. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

“Just hassling us and giving us a bad time. That’s nothing new,” said Bryant. “Once they saw police blocking streets for us, they went in. I don’t think they were particularly happy about that.”

Michael Wilder (left), coordinator at Group Violence Intervention, speaks with speaks with Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Eric Epps. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)
Michael Wilder (left), coordinator at Group Violence Intervention, speaks with Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Eric Epps. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

Among the crowd was not only police but elected officials as well. Though not everyone supported the protesters’ cause.

Local businessperson and unemployed politician Lorence Wenke came to the rally with a sign of instructions telling Black people how to behave. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)
Local businessperson Lorence Wenke, a former state representative and chair of the Kalamazoo County Commission, came to the rally with a sign telling Black people how to behave. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

“To me that sign means, in his eyes, whatever a person does, the cop is justified in his actions,” said Bryant, seen here with his fist raised, after a brief conversation with Wenke.

“If he is not posing a threat to himself, the cops, or the community, then the police don’t have the right to use deadly force.”

Protesters against police violence march down Lovell St. (left) and the Kalamazoo Mall. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

Singleton said that these public demonstrations against police aggression are important but not enough – neither for the community nor police accountability.

“We have to have honest conversations that policing was built on the backs of slavery, and racism, and white supremacy. And until we have those honest conversations, we are not going to see any change,” Singleton said, adding that much of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the institutions of policing and the governments that regulate them. “That’s their issue, that they need to fix, and it’s unfortunate that we have to go so far out of our way, and our lives, to stand up for that and to have to do work for them to better themselves in order for us to feel safe and to survive.”

Bryant said there are some immediate steps that could be taken by Kalamazoo police, such as not bringing a gun with them to non-violent situations like a traffic stop or when they participate in a community event.

“I want to see police sticking their neck out there for us, to tell us that our lives matter, and tell us what they are willing to do to make it safer for us. Speaking up when they see other officers. If there’s a cop doing something bad and doesn’t get reprimanded, then that sets a bad example,” Bryant said.

Quinton Bryant speaks to protesters against police violence outside of the Kalamazoo County Courthouse. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

Bryant said there’s an annual remembrance event planned for those who have experienced police violence, which will coincide with the first anniversary of Floyd’s killing.

This week, Chauvin’s trial in Minneapolis enters the closing arguments phase, and then it’s up to a jury – and a decision that looms large.

“I maybe cannot change things in Minnesota, but I can maybe change things here in Kalamazoo where I was born and raised,” said Singleton.

Meanwhile, Uplift Kalamazoo is working with others to raise awareness of new accusations by dozens of women that they’ve been intentionally drugged and put at risk while visiting a local bar. Some accuse police of ignoring their complaints.

Protesters line up on W. Michigan Ave. to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. (GABRIEL GIRON/NowKalamazoo)

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