Did Cleveland Cops Pepper Spray #BLM Activists?

by Tiffany Thomas

A national convening on race relations and police brutality ended in violence when Cleveland police clashed with social justice advocates. According to eyewitnesses who used Twitter and Instagram to share details of the incident, Black Lives Matter activists were reportedly pepper sprayed by Cleveland police as crowds dispersed following the Movement for Black Lives conference held at Cleveland State University on Sunday. The gathering was the first-ever official convening of advocates from the Black Lives Matter movement.

The event comes at a time when the nation's attention is on how police interact with black communities — specifically on the alarming number of reports of police using violent methods in minority communities and deaths of unarmed men and women while in police custody. According to the conference website, the event included film viewings, panel discussions, art and multimedia appreciation, and spiritual healing seminars in order to "strengthen a budding community that is diverse in voices, origin, perspective and strategy."

Relations between Cleveland police and the city's black community have been tense following last November's death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. A two-year federal investigation into the department's practices uncovered "a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive force," according to The New York Times. The police department was subjected to independent monitoring following the Tamir Rice killing in order to reform its practices.


It's unclear what sparked the incident between Cleveland police and attendees of the Movement for Black Lives conference. However, several journalists and commentators there claimed the incident began when police attempted to detain a young man they believed was violating the city's open container laws. Using the conference hashtag #M4BL, several eyewitnesses offered a real-time account of the altercation with police.

Twitter user @KentaviousPrime shared footage of Cleveland police officers using pepper spray on a crowd of bystanders who are mostly African American. (Warning: The video uses strong language.)

Community organizer Malcolm London also uploaded video from the encounter with Cleveland officers.

The Cleveland Police Department has not yet issued a statement about the incident, and the department spokesperson did not return a message left by Bustle. We'll post more information as it becomes available.

Image: Getty Images (1)