GOP convention protests 'a dud' thus far, expert says
CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention started smoothly in Cleveland, with demonstrations so orderly that protest experts called them a “dud.”
At least two of three marches planned along the city's sanctioned route near Quicken Loans Arena didn't occur.
The largest, associated with the pro-Donald Trump America First Unity Rally, had been expected to draw as many as 5,000 people, but it never kicked off after a related rally at Settler's Landing Park drew just a few hundred people.
The End Poverty Now! March, which did not use the convention's designated parade route, had about 700 marchers from dozens of organizations; a permit application indicated they anticipated as many as 5,000.
“It was a very peaceful event. The nature of the people who are here ... they came here with the idea of protesting peacefully. That is what we want to show to the world,” said Monica Moran, a spokeswoman for Cleveland's Stand Together Against Trump, which participated in the march. A Coalition to Stop Trump rally in the city's downtown attracted more than 300 people, Moran said.
Cleveland police reported making one convention-related arrest on Monday. Further details about the arrest weren't immediately available.
The protests thus far were a “dud,” declared Bob Edwards, 57, an East Carolina University sociologist who traveled to Cleveland with a team of professors and students to study the convention protests.
“We expected a lot more, but it's been pretty low-key. It's not meeting expectations,” said Edwards, who plans to attend next week's Democratic National Convention.
Edwards did not predict whether the relative calm would continue, but he said he thinks the advanced “hype” over the strong police presence and strict security plans helped tamp down protester interest, as did recent violent incidents at home and abroad, which promised to further heighten security.
Many Clevelanders welcomed the lack of volatility.
“We still see a strong potential for violence, but we need to love all of our neighbors,” said Jeffrey Mixon, who heads the Cuyahoga County chapter of Black Lives Matter and belongs to an All Lives Matter group that formed less than a week ago in Cleveland.
Some reveled in what appeared to be increased freedom of speech — and access to an audience and the media.
“I wish they did this more often. They've been silencing the public voice in Cleveland for a long time,” the Rev. Pamela M. Pinkney Butts, 55, said after stepping off a platform in Public Square where the city provided a public address system for people to speak for up to a half-hour each.
Pinkney Butts of Cleveland said she is running for president on the “multi-partisan” ticket, but few people paid any attention to her campaign before Monday. She appeared to be energized after addressing the crowd of several dozen people about her key issue: ending black-on-black crime.
The Public Square crowd numbered in the dozens throughout the morning, with many people stopping only briefly and journalists and police often outnumbering those in the crowd.
A larger crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered on a hillside overlooking the Cuyahoga River several blocks away to rally in support of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.
That America First Unity Rally featured a range of Trump supporters, from a U.S. Senate candidate from Arizona to the group Bikers for Trump.
“We're here to support Donald Trump and to stand with police and law enforcement,” said Bikers for Trump founder Christopher Cox, who predicted as many as 10,000 pro-Trump bikers would visit Cleveland during the four-day convention. “We feel strongly about the ability to come together collectively and exercise free speech.”
Cox said his group has never encountered violence at its rallies. When asked why, a few men flanking Cox laughed.
“We're a bunch of big, barrel-chested men with beards,” said Cox of Mt. Pleasant, S.C. “We're not here to take matters into our own hands. We try to use diplomacy and dialogue to solve problems. But if someone puts their hands on me, I am going to defend myself.”
Security officials, including FBI Director James Comey and Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson, had expressed concerns about violence at the convention. After recent shootings of and by police that escalated tensions across the country, a police union chief in Cleveland asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich to temporarily place a ban on people's right under Ohio state law to openly carry guns in the city, which Kasich said he couldn't legally do.
Cleveland police did not return a message from the Tribune-Review seeking information about convention-related arrests or unrest.
“This world doesn't have to be us versus them,” said Rose Hamid, 56, of Charlotte, a Muslim flight attendant who spoke at Public Square. A group calling itself the Bible Believers protested behind with anti-Islam and anti-gay signs.
“We are tired of the race card. Thank God for Donald Trump. He's not scared of the race card or of liberals,” said protester Jim Gilles, a self-described preacher from Evansville, Ind.
Kathy Wray Coleman of the Imperial Women Coalition, who is black, said, “I think (the Bible Believers' comments) are racist and sexist. There's no place here for that kind of talk.”
Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-601-8368.