Kalamazoo police dismantle homeless encampment

Posted at 7:45 AM, Sep 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-19 07:45:52-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Officers with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety arrived to Bronson Park to evacuate the homeless encampment despite warning the homeless community to evacuate by late Tuesday night.

This all comes despite the lime green notices officers started placing on tents Monday warning protesters to leave the park by late Tuesday night. No officers showed up Tuesday night to make arrests but did show up as of 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to dismantle tents and ask protesters to leave.

“You may try to silence us by moving us out of the park, but  we’re not going nowhere,” said Michael Rizor on Tuesday. He is a protester and representative of the Bronson Park Freedom Encampment group. “We’re not going to go back into the shadows. We’re not.”

The city says its ordinance prohibits “camping and the placements of tents in the park" and says that protesters who refuse to leave face arrest and prosecution.

The group released a statement Tuesday afternoon stating that they’re preparing for arrests. Deputy City Manager Jeff Chamberlain said the city doesn't want arrests but would like to have Bronson Park cleared.

“They have been there illegally for a number of weeks,” Chamberlain said in an interview at City Hall.  “We’ve been having good dialog with the protesters, but at the same time the camp almost doubled in size here in the last week.”

A handful of protesters, many of whom are homeless, began occupying Bronson Park in late August, pitching tents on the steps at City Hall in protest of a proposal to ban sleeping overnight in Bronson Park. Then, after meeting with the city officials, they agreed to move to a Cedar Street location. However, days later they returned to Bronson Park because of what they called “inhumane” conditions. Since then the group has grown to over 100 tents and even more protesters.

“There’s health, there’s sanitary conditions that we’re concerned about,” Chamberlain said. “But the big issue is that this is illegal. And we’ve been telling the folks at the park all along that eventually this needs to come to an end.”

Protesters said that they have already asked many of the women and children in the camp to leave should things take a turn for the worse when the police arrive at 7 p.m.

"According to the violation slip that we received this morning, it also means personal belongings, which means that the city is trying to criminalize the homeless, even though that's why we started this protest in the beginning," Rizor said.

Rizor was among the group of protesters, city officials and community organizers who met September 14 at a conference room at Ministry with Community on Edwards Street. They formed four work groups to tackle the specific physical and mental health issues that homeless men and women face on a daily basis. The city said those groups are still intact.

"We also want to keep working with the folks on some of these very valid issues that they have about homelessness," Chamberlain said. "So we have pulled together a team of housing providers -- The Gospel Mission, Ministry with Community, and others -- [who] are really working very hard to get people housing, get them into the system where they can have access to state funds."

"I think its our job to change society's way of thinking," Wiseman said. "Because somebody being judged by their bank account value above their human character, integrity and moral values is, I think, an insult to every single one of our founding fathers."