Kzoo subcommittee reviewing protest preparations, response

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo City Commission has created a subcommittee to look into how the city prepares for and handles protests.

Commissioners voted to create the subcommittee at a meeting Tuesday night.

City Manager Jim Ritsema, City Attorney Clyde Robinson, Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin, Commissioner Eric Cunningham and Commissioner Chris Praedel will serve on the subcommittee along with representatives from the police department.

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety has been criticized for how it responded to a Saturday rally held by the Proud Boys, a group classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Counter-protesters have questioned why it took KDPS several minutes to respond and why no Proud Boys were arrested.

The city commission received many complaints in public comment during the virtual commission meeting, demanding answers and calling for city leaders to resign.

The city manager is acknowledging mistakes. But he is also defending KDPS’s response, saying the department used the best information it had at the time when preparing the safety plan for the rally.

“Public safety was prepared knowing that Proud Boys is a hate group and that there was going to be some opposition,” Ritsema said.

He says the subcommittee will provide an analysis to the commission.

“I suggested we needed guidance from the city commission on what the expectations are. As we’ve gone from event to event, it seems like the expectations have changed of what public safety, what their role is and what the city’s role (is) in maintaining order,” Ritsema said.

Kalamazoo Pastor Nathan Dannison organized the original counter-protest at the Arcadia Creek Festival site Saturday afternoon and obtained a permit for his event.

“I think that the police underestimated the number of neo-Nazis that were going to come to town,” Dannison said.

He says his group was not the only counter-protesters who showed up to respond to the Proud Boys and does not understand why the Proud Boys were allowed to interfere.

“I’m very confused. You need a permit to park a food truck in this town. I don’t know why these guys were allowed to come here from Indiana, block off streets downtown with their own private vehicles and just march around and disrupt my event,” Dannison said.

He says KDPS should have known the history of the Proud Boys and prepared a different plan.

“In the future, I hope that the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety decides to protect the residents of Kalamazoo first,” Dannison said.

The city manager says he is standing behind Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas following calls for her resignation.

“She is my police chief and will be so as long as she desires or as long as I am here,” Ritsema said.