A transit police officer has pepper-sprayed a crowd in Cleveland protesting the arrest of a 14-year-old at a Black Lives Matter conference inspired by police brutality.
The incident occurred near Cleveland State University in the city’s downtown where the first Black Lives Matter conference was taking place. More than 1,200 participants spent the weekend organizing and discussing a range of social justice issues.
According to the Greater Cleveland regional transit authority, its officers were taking an intoxicated teenage bus rider to a police station just as the conference was ending about 5pm. A large crowd blocked the squad car and tried to get the youngster out. One of the officers turned and began pepper-spraying the crowd.
Other law enforcement agencies responded, including Cleveland police department. The youngster was taken examined in an emergency medical service unit, and released to his mother about 6pm.
No arrests were made. The transit authority did not release the officer’s name. The agency’s officers are not affiliated with the city’s police department.
A video of the incident quickly went viral, and lit a community that is tense from three police-related deaths.
For months, Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson and its top law enforcement officers, as well as Cuyahoga county prosecutor Timothy McGinty, have been pressured by activists unhappy with the handling of the cases of Tamir Rice, Tanisha Andersonand Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
Rice, a 12-year-old, was fatally shot in November when Cleveland patrolman Timothy Loehmann mistook his toy gun for the real thing. Neither Loehmann nor his partner, Frank Garmback, have been charged.
Anderson died that same month after police restrained her during a mental health episode. And Russell and Williams were killed in November 2012 after a high-speed chase when dozens of police officers mistook a car backfiring for a gunshot. The lone officer charged, Michael Brelo, was acquitted of manslaughter.
Local activism in response to those cases – as well as the Department of Justice investigation into the police department’s use of force – convinced organizers to hold the conference in the city.
“Cleveland looks just like Ferguson, looks just like Baltimore, looks just like all of these places that have high oppression,” local organizer Malaya Davis told the Northeast Ohio Media Group referring to the cities which have seen unrest in the wake of black men at the hands of police. “We wanted to highlight that and bring some attention to what’s going on in this city and the state of Ohio as well.”