Kalamazoo protesters ask leaders questions after chaotic night

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Protesters in Kalamazoo are looking for answers from leaders after a chaotic night in the city. 

A peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd and police brutality took a turn on Monday night into Tuesday morning. Several businesses were damaged, cars were damaged, a building was set on fire and protesters were tear gassed.

City leaders scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. After protesters showed up, an officer with Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety announced they would be moving the press conference indoors. 

“We’re peaceful out here. We want them to come out and explain to us what happened last night,” said Brenda Middleton Tiefenthal as she stood among the several upset protesters.

Protesters say they wanted the opportunity to face city leaders and demand answers for the police response during Monday night’s demonstration. 

“There were some terrible things that happened last night in Kalamazoo that should not have happened,” said protester Majyck Dee. “A lot of that was escalated by police presence.”

City leaders eventually faced protesters hosting the press conference outside as originally planned and offered explanation on last night’s events.

Police say at one point, the Kalamazoo mall was surrounded by hundreds of vehicles, causing a gridlock and police were outnumbered 50 to 1. They say police were repeatedly hit with bottles and rocks as groups from outside communities worked to incite violence. 

Police say they gave the groups verbal warning to disperse, but they refused. They say then they began using tear gas. 

“I have certain tools that I don’t want to use that I had to use last night, last resort things and it wasn’t because of peaceful acts. It was to help maintain the safety of this city,” Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas said.

To prevent further damage to the city, Thomas announced a citywide curfew going into effect Tuesday at 7 p.m. Protesters say the officers account of the night is inaccurate and the city’s actions further silences their message.

“People were being peaceful. People were laying down, hands up, hands behind their backs and the people that are sworn to protect us, they protected us alright,” said one man as he stood in front of other protesters. “They served us up tear gas, served us up rubber bullets, served us up mace.”

Mayor David Anderson took the podium to validate community members concerns.

“The reason we are here this morning is based on hundreds of years of history, which has culminated in several horrific events, most recently the death of George Floyd,” Anderson started. “We have reached a tipping point.”

Anderson says the city is committed to creating long-term sustainable change here in Kalamazoo. Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin echoed his support. 

“I hear you and I understand the concerns that people have, not just with George Floyd. You all want to make sure that no knees are going to be on necks in Kalamazoo,” Griffin said.

She says as a black woman, the pain and frustration the community has is not lost on her. 

“I have children out here. I have a husband out here who has been affected by police brutality, so I get it. This isn’t an us versus them thing,” Griffin said.”Racism is nasty. It’s messed up and it’s caused for a lot of problems. Until we change these systems, we’ll be out here again in another two years.” 

Many protesters were unsatisfied with the answers from city leaders. Several stayed after the press conference to speak with Commissioner Eric Cunningham and others one on one. 

Protesters say this is just beginning step toward change.

“We were hoping to get some type of transparency. This is the first time something like this has ever happened here in Kalamazoo. A lot of this is new, but what we’re feeling in the black and brown community is felt everyday and we’re feeling unheard,” Dee said.

Police say they want to support community members’ right to protest, but they want to make sure it is done safely. Chief Karianne Thomas says the department has received credible threats that similar groups are planning to incite violence in the area again Tuesday night. 

The citywide curfew will be in place from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily for the next seven days. The curfew could be lifted or shortened if the situation allows.

The Michigan National Guard and the Michigan State Police have been called in to assist. 

The National Guard in Kalamazoo preparing for protests. (June 2, 2020)