KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Protesters occupying Bronson Park had until 7 p.m. Tuesday night to vacate the area, city officials said in a notice to the group. However around that time hundreds of people — including clergy members, church groups, activists — packed the park for a community potluck. Protesters stood arm-in-arm forming a human chain. Some sang songs while other recited scriptures. However no police arrived. That was until Wednesday morning.
“You’re willing to do this when our supporters leave,” yelled protester Michael Rizor while walking on the sidewalks. He paused, then continued “and quarantine the park because supposedly the homeless is so dirty.”
Dozens of KDPS officers arrived at Bronson Park at 7:00 a.m. By that time many of the protesters left and took down their tents. A few other protesters sat together on the steps of the performance stage while police warned over a loud speaker that they had to leave unless they were media. One of those sitting down was City Commissioner Shannon Sykes Nehring.
“At the end of the day we’re hear to make change,” said Sykes Nehring as police began handcuffing the protestors.
City Officials said in a statement that officers arrested 14 people. Initially Sykes Nehring was not one of them. She stood with her hands behind her back as officers continued to walk past her. So she linked arms with another protester.
“He told me I was not subject to arrest because media and city commissioners are allowed to stay in the park while its a police zone,” she said about asking police why she wasn’t handcuffed. “I think it’s an obvious tactic. It's an obvious strategy to try and break up my support.”
Sykes Nehring said she joined the protest a few weeks ago when she saw firsthand the “inhumane” living conditions at the Cedar Street location where protesters agreed to move to after first demonstrating on the steps of City Hall. When the group, which consists mainly of men and women experiencing homelessness, returned to Bronson Park Sykes Nehring stayed with them for seven days.
“I think the games that the city is playing right now with the lives of very real people are absolutely absurd,” Sykes Nehring said while still linked up. “I think honestly we ought to be ashamed. I have never been so embarrassed to be apart of this city administration. But you know if we’re taking other folks, we’re taking me.”
Sykes Nehring was determined to get arrested she said. When many of the others were cuffed and placed into police vehicles, she stood in front of a van and then a police cruiser, to block them from moving. Then, she was arrested.
“I’m angry this morning,” said Sykes Nehring after being released from jail. “I’m incredibly angry. They are right now making a big show of what they are calling quote rumination as if homeless people are somehow dirty.”
In the same statement released by city officials, they stated that Bronson Park was temporarily closed for cleaning and repairing persons. Any remaining items were thrown away.
“It’s sad,” she continued. “This was quite a community. And this is where a lot of people had begun to be able to call home.”
City officials said that the arrests were a last resort. They added that when police arrived at 6:45 a.m. only 20 tents, of the 100, remained and they gave the protesters time to vacate before issuing citations, even giving them plastic totes to put their belongings in.
However at least 14 stayed, were arrested, prosecuted and released a few hours later. When they walked out of jail they said the fight is far from over.
“There’s a lot of us who are going to continue to fight for you,” Sykes Nehring said. “So keep going. Keep your head up and we’re going to get this thing right.”