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Cleveland Transit Cop Recklessly Pepper-Sprayed Crowd at Bus Stop After Movement for Black Lives Gathering

A transit police officer in Cleveland pepper-sprayed a group of people on July 26 at a bus stop across the street from Cleveland State University. It was about an hour after the Movement for Black Lives gathering concluded.

Video captured by Twitter user @KentaviousPrime shows the white officer in the street rushing into a crowd. He sprays the canister at everyone nearby until it is empty.

The Cleveland transit police apparently believed a 14-year-old black boy was “intoxicated to the point where he was unable to care for himself.” Officers slammed the boy to the ground, detained him, and angered the crowd, which included activists leaving the gathering. The boy was put into a police car, which the crowd surrounded to stop police from taking him.

According to activists at the scene, the boy had a Snapple drink. This was probably the open container the police seized upon as justification for making an arrest.

None of the witnesses at the scene corroborated the police claim that the boy was drunk.

A statement from the transit police declared, “A transit police officer used a general burst of pepper spray in an attempt to push back the crowd, to no avail.”

Shooting a stream of pepper-spray, especially about an hour after a major conference of freedom fighters, could never be reasonably expected to contain or control a crowd. The one officer spraying is terribly reckless in his attempt to drive people away from the scene, and, as transit police seem to admit, the pepper-spray only inflamed the situation more.

As the local NBC affiliate, WKYC, reported:

 “I was told the police are pepper spraying people down the street, and I’m seeing people run for milk so they can be protected from pepper spray all because people are asking what happening to a young man,” said Rhonda Y. Williams, history professor at Case Western Reserve and member of the Cleveland Eight. “When we have an officer who comes out of nowhere and is pushing people and then takes out and just starts spraying with his pepper spray, that’s not deescalation.”

Conference attendee Destinee Henton described how everyone had formed a “barricade around the car urging the police” to let the boy go. The officer sprayed the whole line of people, and everyone was forced to the ground to cover their faces.

“He was still spraying them toward the ground so that’s when more more people started coming out,” Henton added.

Williams explained this is why the Justice Department has investigated police in Cleveland and why the city now has a consent decree.

In December 2014, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division released its report on Cleveland police. The report highlighted incidents of officers striking suspects in the head with “impact weapons,” the use of tasers, chemical spray and fists in acts of retaliation, and the use of “excessive force” against persons suffering from mental illness. The investigation concluded that supervisors tolerate this conduct and sometimes even endorse conduct that amounts to routine violations of Fourth Amendment rights.

“Supervisors throughout the chain of command endorse questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers,” the Justice Department concluded. “We reviewed supervisory investigations of officers’ use of force that appear to be designed from the outset to justify the officers’ actions. Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially-trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers’ use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible.”

Cleveland is where the 12-year-old black boy Tamir Rice was gunned down by officers. The “Cleveland 8,” a group of activists and clergy, have pushed for the two officers responsible for shooting Rice to be arrested, especially after Judge Ronald Aldrine found “probable cause” to issue warrants for Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann in June.

The city is also where 62 police vehicles chased an unarmed black pair in their car in 2012. Officers fired at them 137 times. Michael Brelo, a police officer, climbed on to the windshield of a Malibu with Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams inside. He fired fifteen shots at them. (Brelo was acquitted of felony voluntary manslaughter in May.)

*Here is another video of the crowd being pepper-sprayed:

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."