Protesters chanted, “Black lives matter,” as they walked from the Kalamazoo Courthouse down to the Kalamazoo Mall. Drums were played to the words as cars drove by honking on their horns in support. Handheld signs read, ‘Say their names,’ and ‘Believe Black voices.’
This was in honor of all the members of the Black community who have lost their lives in the hands of the police, said King Ryan, executive director of Uptlift Kalamazoo.
“We’re not here to protest for George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Daunte Wright or Philando Castile,” Ryan said. “We’re here to protest against all the Black people whose names we don’t know.”
The protest was organized by Uplift Kalamazoo, an organization that provides resources and aid to the local Black community, on Friday, April 16. Ryan said it was the responsibility of organizations to form protests such as this.
“We always think when there are Black tragedies being displayed nationwide, and they’re gaining momentum and energy, it is the responsibility of local organizers to take these issues and relate them to what is going on in our city,” Ryan said.
Tristan Henry, Kalamazoo resident, said he was at the protest because he wanted to create a better future for his kids.
“I’m here to support the struggle that is continued before my time and hopefully not too long after my time,” Henry said. “I’m hoping my kids can have a better future. I think as any parent, everyone is trying to make the world a better place for the future of their children.”
He added the protest was to bring a change to official policies to create an equitable world for all people.
“Not just for the BIPOC community, but for all people who suffer systems of oppression,” Henry said. “Be it able-bodied people through ableism, sexism for equal rights for women, any other system that’s erected to bring about any level of inequality. The goal is to see a future where we are all treated as humans.”
Tia Davis, a Western Michigan University senior, attended the protest. She said with a large Black community in Kalamazoo, it was important to bring a Black Lives Matter protest to the city.
“Holding an event like this in a city where a lot of Black and brown people live, it shows that we see them and understand what they’re going through,” Davis said. “A Black person in Kalamazoo feels the same way as a Black person in Detroit, a Black person in Minneapolis, Houston, L.A., Compton. We all have the same message.”
Vernon Coakley, chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, was in attendance at the protest. He said he attended the demonstration to show his support for the community in all ways he can.
“All lives matter and Black lives matter,” Coakley said. “It’s important for us to know there’s some trauma from our community and in this nation, from my profession. They have to be corrected.”
He added KDPS is taking steps in the community to be safe through conversations and training on policies and procedures.
“We continue to have conversations about training to ensure these things that are happening nationally, we can learn from too,” Coakley said. “It’s my job to keep this city safe, it's my job to keep my officers safe. In doing so, we have to keep doing those things right.”