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Black community members call for greater accountability with KDPS after protest response

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Police approach protesters in downtown Kalamazoo, after protest turn violent. (WWMT/File

Members of the Kalamazoo's Black community said the Kalamazoo Department Public Safety should have done more in its response to the violent clash over the weekend.

Black leaders called for greater accountability after the department's decision to not intervene as members of the Proud Boys clashed with counterprotesters.

More than 100 Kalamazoo public safety officers positioned near downtown Kalamazoo intervened several minutes after violence erupted between the Proud Boys and counterprotesters Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.

Counterprotesters said it was different approach from Black Lives Matter protests in May. Officers blocked off streets and used tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters.

"I just feel the energy wasn't directed toward the Proud Boys, it was more directed toward our citizens," said Kalamazoo City Commissioner Eric Cunningham.

For months Cunningham has called for police oversight.

The Kalamazoo City Commission created a subcommittee to create greater accountability for city police and administrators during its Aug. 18 meeting.

Cunningham said city leaders didn't talk to him or Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin before planning their response to this weekend's event. City Commissioner Erin Knott echoed those comments; she said city leaders should have listened to Black leaders in preparing for the event.

A local church held a unity rally at the same time and place the Proud Boys planned to protest.

"Once again, we weren't apart of our critical thinking, and for me, that felt like step one. If that happened, we would probably have recognized the need to bring in other community leaders," Cunningham said.

Video showed members of the Proud Boys using pepper spray on counterprotesters. Several fights broke out when the two groups clashed. The Proud Boys then marched into a parking garage before driving off.

"Nothing was done, the citizens of this community don't feel protected, we don't feel safe, we feel if they were allowed to come again, they would attack us," said Kalamazoo resident Orlando Little, who showed up downtown Kalamazoo to protest the Proud Boys.

Little said some members of the black community have lost all trust in their police department.

"In recent years, KDPS made great strides in the black community, but I feel after this weekend's event, they've taken 20 steps back. I don't think there's a way to resolve that," Little said.

Kalamazoo Police Chief Karianne Thomas said in a phone interview Tuesday the department responded to behaviors as they happened. Thomas said the department is conducing after-action reviews about the events that transpired.

The Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office has charged first person who was arrested Saturday. Court records showed 31-year-old Travis Anderson of Adrian, was charged with resisting and obstructing a police officer. Anderson was arraigned in Kalamazoo County District Court on Aug. 17 and was released from jail on a $1,000 bond.

In total, nine adults were arrested and one juvenile, Thomas said. The juvenile was released to the custody of his parents. Eight of the adults have had their charges dismissed, she said.

Charges were dropped for seven adults and one juvenile, prosecutors said.