The Kalamazoo Defender and the Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild have worked together to support the Black Lives Matter and related protests in Kalamazoo.  Both organizations provided Legal Observers for the anti-racist counter-protesters who assembled on August 15, 2020 at Arcadia Creek Park  in opposition to  the announced arrival in Kalamazoo of the group of white supremacists that call themselves the “Proud Boys.”  The Proud Boys have been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

           Since the murder of George Floyd, Kalamazoo Defender attorneys and employees have served as Legal Observers for protests, and provided the community with information regarding their protest rights.  Both the Kalamazoo Defender and the Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild provided Legal Observers for the protest on August 15.  (Legal Observers are individuals who purposely position themselves close enough to demonstrations to be able to accurately watch and report the activities of participants and the law enforcement personnel who interact with them).

          We understand that the anti-racist counter-protest was organized by individuals who obtained a permit to rally at Arcadia Creek Park. It is our understanding that Pastor Dannison of the Kalamazoo First Congregational Church received the permit.  It is also our understanding that the Proud Boys never applied for or received a permit for their gathering in Kalamazoo. 

              Legal Observers began arriving at Arcadia Creek Park shortly after 11 am, where a peaceful, anti-racist gathering began.   There were around a dozen Legal Observers there, all wearing bright green baseball hats clearly identifying them as observers with the National Lawyers Guild. 

             Shortly after 1pm the counter-protesters learned that the Proud Boys were gathering a couple blocks away at the Radisson hotel.  As KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas reported later at a press conference, law enforcement became aware this hate group was armed. Around 1:30pm, this designated, armed hate group began marching toward the anti-racist gathering at Arcadia Park. When the Proud Boys arrived at the permitted assembly in Arcadia Park, there was virtually no visible law enforcement presence.   The Proud Boys were permitted to approach the anti-racist counter protesters, and no police attempted to stop them.  As could have been predicted, violent clashes erupted between the Proud Boys and the counter-protesters once the Proud Boys arrived in the vicinity of the Park.

        At the time of the initial clash near Arcadia Park, there were no police officers in the area. The Proud Boys turned right, continuing their march onto Edwards Street, where there is construction, and one of the lanes of traffic is blocked. As a result, the passage in this area is narrow and created a bottleneck, where the Proud Boys and counter-protestors again violently clashed. Even after this second outbreak of violence, several minutes elapsed before police officers arrived on the scene.

          The police allowed the Proud Boys to march  to where their vehicles were parked in the Radisson parking garage. After the  Proud Boys  left the area, Kalamazoo police officers  returned in force, with riot gear, to Arcadia Park and ordered the assembled anti-racist counter-protesters to disperse, threatening anyone who remained, including Legal Observers, with arrest.  No Proud Boys appeared to be in the area at this time.

           Driven from the park, many counter-protestors moved over to the parking ramp at the Radisson as the Proud Boys left. Those counter-protestors gathered around the exit of the parking ramp, and  denounced the hate group as they drove away.  They observed that most of the Proud Boys’ vehicles lacked license plates or had their license plates obscured, violations that incurred no KDPS enforcement.  The counter protesters were then herded by law enforcement away from the garage exit, down Michigan Avenue, and back to  Arcadia Park. 

            As a result of Saturday’s demonstrations, 9 people were arrested, including one Legal Observer, one reporter, and 7 of the anti-racist counter-protesters.   All 9 people arrested endured the trauma of arrest, intake, and detention in the Kalamazoo County Jail during a global pandemic.  Five arrestees were released several hours after being booked, and one was released later in the evening.  Three arrestees spent the night in jail. Of the nine people arrested, none were Proud Boys.

            The issues raised by this event, which should bring about an investigation by the Kalamazoo City Commission, are:  The Proud Boys should not have been allowed by the City Police to march without a permit towards Arcadia Park, the Proud Boys should not have been allowed to march to the vicinity of the Park and confront the counter-protesters; the Kalamazoo Police should have protected the  counter-protesters in the Park from being confronted by the Proud Boys; once the Proud Boys left, there was no reason to order the permitted counter-protesters to disperse from the Park;  any  Proud Boys’ vehicles traveling without license plates should have been stopped and investigated; and the reasons for the arrest of the nine people should be reviewed; clearly, the Legal Observer and the reporter should not have been arrested.  

            We have been informed that the above issues will be addressed at the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8.  We invite the public to attend and express their opposition to the manner in which the Kalamazoo Police conducted themselves on August 15. 

Kalamazoo Defender; the Kalamazoo Defender may be contacted at info@KalamazooDefender.org, or 269-250-5000.

Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild; which may be contacted at administrator@michigannlg.org or 313-925-2626


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