CLEVELAND — Several hundred Donald Trump supporters and opponents held rallies a half-mile apart as the four-day Republican National Convention opened on a hot and sticky Monday with police on edge in this summer of violence.
A few Trump backers openly carried guns as allowed under Ohio law.
While there was a large police presence downtown and near the convention site around midday, just a few dozen officers on bikes stood watch during the pro-Trump rally along the Cuyahoga River.
Joel Ameigh, of Hershey, Pennsylvania, who had a Smith & Wesson handgun strapped to his belt, said he is not necessarily a Trump backer but wanted to hear from the speakers at the “America First” rally sponsored by Citizens for Trump.
“We’re not here to be dangerous people. We’re not here to intimidate anyone. There are laws against that sort of thing,” he said.
The deadly truck attack in France and the ambush killings of five police officers earlier this month in Dallas and three more in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over the weekend heightened fears of bloodshed in Cleveland.
Concrete barricades blocked key streets and intersections downtown, fences surrounded the convention arena, and police helicopters flew over the city.
About 600 Cleveland officers were assigned to convention security duty along with thousands of officers from other agencies. Among them: Homeland Security investigators, Customs and Border Protection personnel, Coast Guard members, and the Ohio National Guard.
On Sunday, the president of the police union asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich to suspend the law allowing gun owners to carry firearms in plain sight. But the Republican governor said he didn’t have the authority.
Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, said disruptions by protesters could work to the candidate’s political advantage.
“Frankly, that impact will probably help the campaign because it’s going to show again, you know, lawlessness, a lack of respect for political discourse,” he said shortly before the convention officially began.
On the anti-Trump side, several hundred people chanted “Dump Trump now!” and held signs saying things like “No racism, no fascism, no Trump” as they marched through the streets.
Many were upset with the Republican presidential candidate’s stand on immigration, including his proposal to build a wall at the Mexican border and his call for barring Muslims from entering the U.S. The demonstrators also decried what they called racist police practices.
Jezell Gaines, of New York City, marched through the streets with anti-Trump protesters who chanted, “Black lives matter!”
“Trump is bad news,” she said. “He’s preaching hate. It’s not cool, because we’re trying to overcome hate.”
Officers on bicycles and Indiana state troopers on convention security duty stood off to the side while a black speaker complained about police mistreatment.
Cleveland patrolman Bohdan Roshetsky, an eight-year veteran, said that after the recent shootings, “our awareness is extremely high.”
He said he was surprised by an outpouring of support from people on Monday, including hugs and requests for pictures.
“I’ve been brought to tears numerous times riding around on the bike, seeing them cheering, clapping, thanking us for being there,” he said.
Even protesters complaining about police tactics were being respectful, he said. “Nobody’s been nasty to us,” he said.
Across town, speakers at an anti-establishment rally featuring a concert by the Prophets of Rage railed against police violence, poverty and political institutions.
“The oppressed aren’t out-numbered. They’re out-organized,” said Khalil Samad, a local activist who works with gangs.