Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas says law enforcement should have responded quicker when violence broke out downtown over the weekend between members of the Proud Boys hate group and counter protesters.
During a Sunday afternoon news conference at City Hall, Thomas said she did not want officers to be targets for either the white nationalist group the Proud Boys, or for counter protestors.
"We are a small city of 80,000," she explained. "This is a new era for us in responding to such events, and we are continually learning from them."
The Proud Boys have been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson called the Proud Boys “hate mongers.” City Manager Jim Ritsema echoed those thoughts, saying, "Hate and violence are not welcome in Kalamazoo, and these groups are not wanted and are not welcome."
Thomas said officers had been covertly monitoring the march by the Proud Boys from the parking ramp on Rose St. toward the festival site. She said she did not want her officers to become a target of demonstrators and they were keeping a low profile as it began.
Nine people were arrested after members of the Proud Boys hate group and counter-demonstrators scuffled Saturday near Arcadia Festival Park, but Kalamazoo city officials say it could have been much worse.
Thomas said that both sides were armed.
"The Proud Boys were carrying flags, and many were armed with rifles and handguns. The Proud Boys marched on Water St. and were met by counter protestors, some counter protestors were also armed," Thomas said.
Thomas added that the members of the hate group did use pepper spray, and she admitted that Public Safety also used it to try to put some distance between the two groups. The skunk-like smell hung in the air for some time after the confrontation. Punches were thrown and objects were used as clubs, but no shots were fired.
Mayor Dave Anderson also announced that he had requested that minor ordinance violations against five counter-demonstrators be dropped. City Attorney Clyde Robinson has since dismissed the misdemeanors. Four other more serious charges involving assault have been turned over to the County Prosecutor.
Chief Thomas says that more arrests may be made. She says they are asking anyone who was injured or victimized in the scuffles come forward and that anyone with video of the confrontations, make them available to Public Safety.
Thomas also apologized for the arrest of an MLive reporter who was covering the protests. Samuel Robinson was charged with impeding traffic, despite clearly showing press credentials. That charge was dropped almost immediately.