Kalamazoo criminalizes homelessness, arrests city commissioner and other activists

Mike DeWaele writes, "A group of homeless activists had maintained a peaceful occupation of Bronson Park in Kalamazoo for about a month in protests of a new ordinance that made it illegal to sleep in public parks. The protest was well organized, clean and well maintained- at one point involving up to 200 homeless citizens and their supporters, with extensive logistical support from the larger community. The protest had clearly articulated demands but the City Comission was willing to address them only on a very superficial level, with no comitment to action, and then only after weeks of public pressure. While the talks were still ongoing, the city manager ordered local police to clear the camp, which happened before his morning. Several homeless and other activists refused to vacate, including city commissioner Shannon Sykes, who had been the lone voice on the commission in (passionate) support of the encampment and who had spent several nights with the protest as a supporter and observer. Those activists have all been arrested on as yet unknown charges."

The protest began on Aug. 19 in response to proposed city ordinance changes, which would lessen penalties for sleeping and camping in parks but were seen as a way to punish people for being homeless. A series of demands sought more emergency shelter space and resources to address the physical, emotional and mental health of people on the streets.

A work group of local governmental officials and social service providers was assembled to achieve these goals, but the encampment continued to gather members.

Ritsema told protesters several times during the last month that they are violating city ordinances by camping in Bronson Park. Protesters were allowed to stay indefinitely, but Ritsema decided to clear the park after the camp grew during the weekend.

Police arrive at Bronson Park protest, threaten arrest for those who stay [Malachi Barrett/Kalamazoo Gazette]

(Image: Nick Ponton)