CLEVELAND, Oh. – Fourteen people who were killed in a shootout with police last week after they refused to vacate a federal building in downtown Cleveland may have had ties to the Black Lives Matter movement, according to a high-ranking official involved with the investigation.
On the morning of January 20, Cleveland police responded to reports of looting near the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building on East 9th Street. Upon arrival, officers observed more than a dozen African-American men and women “milling about in a suspicious manner” near the building’s main entrance. Outnumbered and fearing for their safety, officers called for backup before approaching the group.
When an armored SWAT unit finally arrived, Cleveland police moved in and quickly surrounded the individuals who, according to official reports, “exhibited threatening behavior” by refusing to adhere to the officers’ orders. In the ensuing commotion, authorities say one of the looters appeared to reach for an officer’s service weapon prompting police to open fire in self-defense. After a two-minute exchange and more than fifteen hundred shots fired by police, all fourteen suspects were dead.
According to investigators, all but one of the suspects were found to be in possession of Black Lives Matter literature. “In addition, our forensics team found a number of placards and poster boards touting similar militant rhetoric near the suspects’ bodies,” Detective Roy Abernathy told reporters during a press conference Wednesday morning.
Detective Abernathy said the FBI was called in last week to look into the frightening but all too real possibility that the militants may have been involved in a larger plot to kill law enforcement officers. “In light of recent events, we take even the smallest threat to our officers very seriously,” the detective said, adding that authorities are questioning the suspects’ close friends and relatives in an attempt to determine “if and when any of these military-aged youth were radicalized.”
In a joint statement issued Wednesday with Cleveland officials, a spokesman for the FBI said the group’s leadership “are no longer a threat to the community and any future attempts to occupy the Anthony J. Celebreeze building have been thwarted. This community can finally begin to heal the deep wounds that this illegal activity has created over the last week.”