Cleveland Readies for Protests at the Republican National Convention

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by Nick Castele

It’s not hard to find people in Ohio unhappy with Donald Trump’s comment about so-called “riots” at the Republican National Convention.

Trump made that remark on CNN, referring to what would happen if the nomination were taken from him at a contested convention.

Gov. John Kasich called that comment “outrageous.” Former U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said Trump owed the city an apology. And Cleveland City Council safety committee chairman Matt Zone, a Democrat, said the comments were “reckless.”

“Any candidate from a major party, I believe, has an ethical and moral obligation to not incite and not divide,” Zone said.

How exactly law enforcement is preparing for the convention in this chaotic election season—that’s a little harder to figure out. The city and the Secret Service are saying next-to-nothing about their security plans, except to assure the public that the event will be safe.

Cleveland’s 1,500-person police force will be working 12-hour shifts. Another 2,500 officers are expected here from neighboring departments and out-of-state, Zone said.

Zone said he’s confident police will offer protection while allowing people to voice their opinions.

“But we’re not going to allow people to hurt individuals or hurt property,” he said. “That’s not going to be accepted, and it’s going to be dealt with accordingly.”

City Stocks up on Gear

Cleveland and Democratic National Convention host Philadelphia have both received $50 million each in federal security grants. A chunk of that money pays for those out-of-town police.

Cleveland officials also plan to buy equipment, such as barricades, batons and 2,000 sets of riot gear.

This week, civil rights activists expressed dismay over the purchases. Jacqueline Greene with the Ohio branch of the National Lawyers’ Guild called for “the immediate release of the entire list of equipment to be purchased for the RNC.”

Adding to their concern is the fact that Cleveland police are in their first year of a federal consent decree. In 2014, the Justice Department found evidence of a pattern and practice of excessive force.

Cleveland has seen numerous nonviolent protests over shootings by police, most ending without arrests. But last year, after Officer Michael Brelo was acquitted of manslaughter charges, police arrested about 70 demonstrators, cornering many of them in a narrow street downtown.

Many were held over the weekend, from Saturday night until Monday. Cleveland faced a lawsuit, and agreed to a new mass arrest procedure.

That experience doesn’t sit well with local NAACP President Michael Nelson.

“If you’re going to abuse the Constitution in that way on an easy matter,” Nelson said, “then what are you going to do when things get serious, like they may get, with protests around this Republican National Convention?”

Looking to Past Convention Hosts Tampa and Charlotte

The police union is also worried. President Steve Loomis said the gear isn’t getting here soon enough for officers to spend several months training with it.

At the 2012 DNC in Charlotte, police had about three months to train with their equipment before the event, former police chief Rodney Monroe said.

“That is a concern, was a concern, to be able to get people fitted, suited and trained with the equipment,” he said.

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor led the department when her city hosted the 2012 RNC.

“You have to prepare for the worst,” she said. “And if you don’t use that equipment, that’s great.”

Castor she made sure officers were trained to de-escalate situations. She said she didn’t want to send police out in full riot gear to confront protesters.

“That sends a message that there’s an expectation of trouble, and that’s not what we expected,” she said. “We met with everyone, we set the ground rules, and we expected everybody to abide by them.”

In addition to police meetings with activists, there was also a tropical storm that likely dampened enthusiasm for big outdoor protests.

But Castor said the temperature of this election could present Cleveland with a different set of challenges than Tampa faced.

“I believe that Cleveland is going to have a much more difficult time than we had down here in Tampa, for a number of reasons,” Castor said. “But the most apparent is just the volatility in this election process.”

For now, officials are staying very quiet about their plans. When asked for comment, Secret Service spokesman Kevin Dye was brief, saying, “This is going to be a secure event.”

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