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City officials investigating their response to Proud Boys rally

Officials says they've identified 'areas of improvement' for City, recommend implementing credential system for media, legal observers
Posted at 9:17 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 23:11:25-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The City of Kalamazoo is conducting a '"full, independent" investigation into the Proud Boys rally that occurred on August 15, they said. That day, dozens of members of the Proud Boys marched in the downtown area, where they clashed with counter-protesters.

Fights erupted and a FOX 17 video showed protesters being spray with mace.

Mayor David Anderson said he was "saddened and disturbed" by the Proud Boys rally.

“Let me be clear: hate has no place in Kalamazoo or southwest Michigan,” he said during a virtual press conference with the media and City Hall officials on Monday. “As mayor, I strongly denounce the Proud Boys and other hate groups that promote racism and seek to instigate violence and mayhem through their words and actions.”

Since the rally, city officials created a subcommittee to review the specific incidents and details of that day. The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety said they’ve been working with the subcommittee and reviewing body camera footage, social media videos, and firsthand accounts of the rally and march.

On August 28, the subcommittee — which includes City Manager Jim Ritsema and other officials with the City Commission and KDPS — shared their findings and recommendations with other officials.

“Our goal is to identify where we succeeded and where we can improve, to ensure we are doing the best to protect all Kalamazoo residents, visitors, and public safety officers,” Mayor Anderson said during the virtual news conference August 31. “Today, you will hear about how we are working together to learn from this incident and create a better Kalamazoo.”

City officials said a change they’d like to make is implementing a credential system for media members and legal observers for events like the Proud Boys rally. On that day, when the fights broke out, MLive reporter Samuel J. Robinson was arrested while working and recording what was happening. As police were arresting him, he can be heard on his recording identifying himself as "media" several times. However, he was still arrested.

Later, the charges against him were dropped, Police Chief Karianne Thomas said during a press conference held the day after the rally.

“I think we have got to start somewhere, and a good credentialing system is a good first step as well as training,” Chief Thomas said during Monday’s virtual news conference. “For those that saw the video of him saying he was an MLive reporter, unfortunately, the officers didn’t hear that. So, having that credentialing system that easily recognizes reporters, we don’t want a repeat of what happened.”

Ritsema stated his support for a credentialing system as well. He expressed hope that having more visibility will quickly identify media members and legal observers during chaotic times.

He also stated that the subcommittee is meeting with local activists, community organizations, and faith-based groups, seeking their input on changes and recommendations they’d like to see.

“We need to have community conversations about how we should approach First Amendment assemblies in Kalamazoo when they do happen,” Ritsema said. “I applaud the Department of Public Safety for working with counter-protesters and a local pastor to try to prevent the kind of chaos, violence, and mayhem we have seen in other cities.”

Ritsema added that other recommendations included accountability, ways to prevent violence and escalation, and better communication with organizers, the public, media members, and medics before and during such events.

He said ultimately the violent incident that occurred on August 15 is something they hope to never see again.

“We are committed to transparency and accountability, because it leads to continuous improvement,” Ritsema said. “In the coming weeks, we will share updates about our plans for implementing the subcommittee's recommendations to ensure we provide a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all Kalamazoo residents and visitors.”