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Cleveland holds its breath as protesters, cops and Republicans descend

Cleveland residents are holding their breath as normal city life is about to become anything but. The Republican convention is about to start and getting anywhere downtown is going to be a nightmare. Local police, backed by 3000 Homeland Security agents are on the ready and so are the anti-Donald Trump protesters. The attack in Nice has added another layer of concern. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, with the Republican Convention just three days away now, our Lisa Desjardins is already in Cleveland with this look at how the city is preparing for rising concerns over security.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The welcome signs are flying, the parks are green and gorgeous, but on the eve of this long-awaited moment for Cleveland, the city is holding its breath.

  • CALVIN WILLIAMS, Chief, Cleveland Police Department:

    We have to ensure everybody's safety, whether they're a protester, or a delegate, or a visitor or a person that lives here in the city of Cleveland.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The city and police department have a two-part plan: one, a secure fenced-in zone around the two main convention sites.

    That's standard practice in convention cities. But there is a second zone, a much wider area outside the perimeters, where the city and police have banned a number of items, from Tasers to tennis balls. But police say guns will be allowed, due to Ohio's open carry law.

  • OFFICER TAYLOR BOHLEN, Cleveland Police Department :

    Next week is just — I'm concerned about the mass of people, but it's going to be the same situations that we deal with every day while we're working out on the street, just on a larger scale.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The restrictions have gone too far, according to ACLU Ohio staff attorney Elizabeth Bonham. She successfully sued, forcing changes in the city's security plan.

    ELIZABETH BONHAM, ACLU of Ohio: Originally, the way the city drew these restrictions was extremely broad. They cannot leave the First Amendment rights of all the people coming here to demonstrate or celebrate or what have you on the back burner.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The result is a downtown zone that includes places like this park, Public Square. It's where officials hope thousands of protesters will go, but some protest groups tell us they think the restrictions are too tight and they're not going to follow the rules.

    Others say they are preparing now to try and prevent violence. Tea Party activist Ralph King is planning a pro-Trump event for Monday. He took the rare step of meeting with these anti-Trump activists this week, recording a short video asking for calm.

  • RALPH KING, Tea Party Activist:

    I don't care if you're for Mr. Trump, you're against Mr. Trump. I don't care if you're a Black Lives Matter. If you want to come to Cleveland, you act and you respect our city. If you don't want to, we don't want you here.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    King says he's not nervous, but Geoff Yaw is. He's a local filmmaker producing a documentary about the convention.

  • GEOFF YAW, Local Filmmaker:

    Yeah, I'm worried. I think you have to be. I think, if you're not, you're perhaps unprepared.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Cleveland police say they're prepared, using a $50 million federal government security grant to buy equipment and non-lethal weapons.

    Joining them will be 3,000 federal security officials and thousands of state National Guard and officers on loan from other departments.

    Clevelanders themselves say that adds confidence, especially after the attack in Nice, France.

  • ANDRE ROBISON, Cleveland Area Resident:

    I'm real happy there is going to be a lot of security. I'm real happy.

  • BRYAN GOZELANCZYK, Cleveland Area Resident:

    I think that's always a concern, but, I mean, I have a lot of faith in, you know, not only the Cleveland police, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office and everyone else that is kind of working to secure the event.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Most of these folks are first-time protesters, a group of doctors that formed Stand Against Trump and now think their protest march next Thursday may draw thousands.

    Surgeon Jana Hambley.

  • JANA HAMBLEY, Protester:

    We are committed to being completely peaceful. This is a nonviolent group. For the most part, we are all medical professionals, and so most of us have taken oaths in our personal and professional life to uphold human life.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Babu Chandrababu owns and runs Cafe Sausalito, a downtown restaurant that was set to close just six years ago, when he turned it around.

    SARAVANAN "BABU" CHANDRABABU, Owner, Cafe Sausalito: All the protesters, media, everything is going to be on our side, so we are very concerned about it and especially our employees are scared.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Scared of what might happen next week, given the restaurant's proximity to the security barrier. His customers, like Emily Berndt — they are worried, too. She's not going to work next week.

  • EMILY BERNDT, Cleveland Area Resident:

    Primarily, it's the road closures. My bus has to stop way far away from where I work, and so it makes it more difficult to get to work, and also I was concerned about the possible protesters.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Concerns shared by many, the public, protesters and the police.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins in Cleveland.

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