Police, bikers, neighbors pitch in to clean up Kalamazoo neigborhood

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Edison neighborhood in Kalamazoo has unfortunately been no stranger to violence and crime in recent years.

That’s where 13-year-old Michael Day was shot and killed this past Memorial Day and where Kalamazoo police officer Eric Zapata was killed while on duty in 2011.

All the more reason several dozen people including police officers,  residents, and members of the local motorcycle club Sons of Malta took to the streets Thursday night, ready to take back their block. Members of the Sons of Malta are former police officers and other emergency personnel.

For Kalamazoo Public Safety Sgt. Matt Elzinga , the evening proves to be more than just an opportunity to get out and clean up trash. “When people call police, it’s usually because they’re having a bad day,” Elzinga said. “Being out here gives us the opportunity to go back, and they can see us in a different light, and they know they can trust us.”

Lightning Kicks, a martial arts studio located in the neighborhood, helped with coordinating the event. Matt Ohrstrol, a member of the studio, was one of the volunteers who was out picking up trash.

“I’ve had a lot of people out here very happy to see us,” he said. “Had a lot of people tell me how happy they are to see someone making that initial difference.”

Sons of Malta members rode around during the cleanup to  keep the area secure, and their presence in the neighborhood wasn’t going unnoticed, according to Joseph Weeks, a member of the club. “It lets the people who live in this neighborhood know that they’re not alone and there’s other people from the outside who will come in and help them,” he said.

Weeks added that gangs in the area aren’t happy with the progress the cleanup program has made. “There’s a lot of good people in this neighborhood. The gang activity that’s going on here, gangs are bullies, and if you cower and don’t do anything, the bullies win.”

Issa Smith, who lives in the neighborhood, was out Thursday evening while cleanup was going on and said she’s pleased to see people getting involved in the area again. “I think the  more people who come together the better,” she said. “I think people have lost that sense of community, and I think if people come together more, it’ll be better.”

Lightning Kicks and the Sons of Malta plan to organize more cleanup days in other Kalamazoo neighborhoods in the future.

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