Unrest in Cleveland outside of ‘Black Lives Matter’ conference

UPDATED: This story was updated at 6:10 p.m. PT to include statement from the Greater Cleveland RTA.

A tense incident occurred outside the first ever “Black Lives Matters” conference in Cleveland on Sunday when a transit officer pepper sprayed a crowd who was protesting the arrest of a 14-year-old boy.

See also: Cleveland settles with U.S. Justice Department over police brutality

According to a report from ABC 5 in Cleveland, the incident began when police arrested a 14-year-old boy for allegedly having an open container of alcohol, during which, “Witnesses said the officers slammed the teen to the ground.”

The boy was among a group of departing conference attendees who were waiting for buses at stops outside Cleveland State University where the conference was held this weekend. After the boy was in custody, demonstrators were shown blocking the ambulance he had placed into. Tweets by demonstrators indicate the boy was later released.

Another video showed the aftermath with several demonstrators recovering from the spray.

Cops arrested one of ours (a 14 yr old). Won’t contact his mother. We will not let them leave with him even after they pepper spray us—babies included. #whodoyouprotectwhodoyouserve #M4BL #cleveland

A video posted by Andrew Humphrey (@humphreymarion) on Jul 26, 2015 at 2:07pm PDT

Brandon Blackwell, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, said on Twitter that it appeared an RTA officer was the one who dispensed the pepper spray on the protesters in a scene reminiscent of a similar incident in 2011 at an Occupy protest at the University of California-Davis.

A call by Mashable to the Greater Cleveland RTA went unanswered but this evening the RTA did release a statement, saying, the boy appeared to be too drunk to care for himself so the officers followed “normal procedure, which is — after police collect pertinent information, juveniles are transported to police headquarters to await release to a parent or legal guardian.”

Within minutes, a large crowd had gathered. For the safety of the juvenile, Transit Police moved him from the open shelter area into a police cruiser. The crowd then surrounded the car, and attempted to remove the juvenile from the car. By this time, several other law enforcement agencies had also responded.

The crowd kept the police car from leaving the area. A Transit Police officer used a general burst of pepper spray in an attempt to push back the crowd, to no avail.

The conference, called The National Convening of the Movement for Black Lives, kicked off in Cleveland on Friday at Cleveland State. Over 1,200 attendees pre-registered for the event with more expected to have attended throughout the weekend.

The city of Cleveland has found itself at the center of many of the cases central to the Black Lives Matter movement, including last year’s shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice at the hands of a police officer and the recent acquittal of Michael Brelo of a police officer in the 2012 shooting of two unarmed people following a police chase.

In that 2012 chase, thirteen officers fired at a car with Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams inside after a long, high-speed chase. However, only Brelo was charged criminally because prosecutors said he waited until the car had stopped, and the pair no longer a threat, to fire 15 shots through its windshield while standing on the hood of the car.

Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, were each shot more than 20 times. While prosecutors argued they were alive until Brelo’s final salvo, medical examiners for both sides testified that they could not determine the order in which the fatal shots were fired.

Brelo’s acquittal, in May, spurred protests that resulted in dozens being arrested.

Cleveland was also the focus of a recent investigation by the Justice Department into police brutality, an investigation that yielded an agreement with the city for major reform of its police department.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press

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