Kalamazoo’s usually stoic city manager fought his emotions Monday night as he pronounced his city at a crossroads between “civility and peace” and “full-scale gang activity.”
With Kalamazoo Public Safety still investigating 2007’s second gun-related slaying of a city teenager, Kenneth Collard said Monday Kalamazoo must mobilize now or face more loss of life, including the possible death of police officers.
“If we fail to address hooliganism and general disregard for our laws we will have full-scale gang activity in our community,” Collard told the Kalamazoo City Commission at a work session updating its racial-equity efforts. “Those enterprises will most likely be rooted in drugs and fully protected by guns.”
On Monday, Collard said he directed Public Safety Chief Dan Weston to “convene neighborhood and community leaders to review the issues of drugs, guns, assaults and escalating youth violence as soon as practical.”
City officials acknowledged that renewed efforts to get guns off Kalamazoo’s streets and curb youth violence will sharpen the focus on balancing safety and civil liberties, including claims of racial profiling.
“Officers have to be looking for guns, and that will cause some people to believe we are racially profiling,” Weston told commissioners. “They’ll raise questions about minor-violation stops and asking to search a car.
“We need your support and understanding,” Weston said. “We don’t want to stand and see and smell another death. It rips your guts out to see these young kids shot up.”
Kalamazoo’s latest gun victim, 18-year-old Timothy Terrell Palmer, died early Monday at Bronson Methodist Hospital one day after police say he was shot by someone in a passing car.
Officials said Kalamazoo may not have the nationally known youth gangs apparent in larger cities, but teen joblessness, weak family connections, lack of adult supervision and “wanting to belong” are forging local groups that are dividing the city into geographic turfs.
The city has responded with increased investment in a summer youth-employment program, measures to increase dialogue between cops and kids, neighborhood block parties and a series of planned gun-buyback programs.