Dallas police massacre raises alarms ahead of GOP convention – Politico
CLEVELAND — In a closed-door meeting here, Republican Party leaders were briefed by a security consultant about measures in place to protect them at next week’s national convention. They emerged confident in the elaborate, and expensive, apparatus mobilized to protect them.
But among the thousands of protesters preparing to gather on the streets outside the convention, anxiety is mounting. The shooting of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota by police — and the murder of five Dallas police officers by a lone gunman looking to kill white people — has heightened racial tension across the country, frightening demonstration organizers who worry that even one violent agitator could provoke chaos.
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Al Porter, the president of Black on Black Crime Inc., is organizing a protest against police brutality and violent crime in Cleveland, and he said he’ll be watching for instigators who could turn his event ugly.
“We’re always concerned that that message can get waylaid or something might happen where somebody does something ignorant or stupid and messes up the whole message,” Porter said.
Bill Daher, an organizer with Bikers for Trump, said he wasn’t sure that there would be violence, but that it was “common sense” to be worried about it. He also predicted that if there is violence, it would be a racially motivated attack.
“Well, hey, when the shooting starts, if the black people start dropping, then some black person’s hiding behind me,” he said. “If the white people start dropping, then I’m going to hide behind a black person. So, I don’t know what’s going to result.”
“That’s just the way the country’s going. People are shooting each other, people are robbing each other, killing each other,” said Daher, whose group has applied for a permit to hold a pro-Trump demonstration outside the convention.
The protest leaders themselves all insist they’re encouraging allies to demonstrate peacefully and prevent their messages from getting muddied by unnecessary violence. But they’re also all worried that unaffiliated provocateurs could create danger outside the RNC, which will be held in the Quicken Loans Arena. The arena itself will be secured by the Secret Service, in coordination with other federal and local agencies. Cleveland police, with the help of officers flown in from departments all over the country, are responsible for securing the area of the city outside the arena.
About 60 groups have applied for protest permits. Citizens for Trump is expected to have a large turnout for its America First rally, which will take place July 18 at Settler’s Landing Park. A permit was issued for at least 5,000 participants for the event.
But the bulk of groups are anti-Trump, including Code Pink, Food Not Bombs and a man hosting a Stop Trump rally. The groups Stand Together Against Trump and the NE Ohio American Friends Service Committee.
Some plan to lead marches, others to set up rallies and public speaking demonstrations in the public spaces inside the city’s protected “event zone” — a swath of downtown Cleveland outside the convention arena where many dangerous items will be prohibited, including swords, tennis balls, pepper spray and fake guns.
Real guns, however, will be allowed. Ohio is an open-carry state, and police say they’re required to permit guns inside the event zone so long as the weapons are being carried legally.
“Law in the state of Ohio is that we have open carry. We will follow the law,” said Mayor Frank Jackson in a Wednesday press conference.
The New Black Panther Party has reportedly urged members planning to protest in Cleveland to carry legal firearms.
Cleveland’s police and federal authorities, who joined Jackson at his press conference, projected an air of calm and stability on the eve of the convention. City officials have indicated that about a third of the department’s 1,700 member force will be patrolling the zone outside the convention. And federal officials have insisted they’re confident in Cleveland’s readiness to host the convention.
“With the amount of officers coming from across the country, this really is America’s convention,” said Ron Rowe, the Secret Service’s lead agent at the convention.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Wlliams said the Dallas shooting was “a wake-up call for a lot of people.” But he noted that Cleveland has been used to handling mass events where guns are allowed.
“We have tactics and policies in place to deal with that,” he said. “I’m not going to get into specifics. We have talked since Dallas about how to better that. We’re also going to make sure that people are safe.”
Members of the Republican National Committee told POLITICO that they’re unconcerned the convention will be disrupted by violence — it’s always a tense environment, they note and shrugged off the notion that this year may be more tense than usual.
“I was part of the ’72 convention,” said Kentucky RNC Committeeman Mike Duncan. “In ’72 we had the Vietnam War going on. We had buses that were turned over and burned, we had delegates getting into fist fights. We had to go through tear gas to get to the convention on Thursday night. I feel like we’re much further along than in previous conventions.”
Others compared the environment to the tense atmosphere that accompanied the New York convention in 2004, the party’s first in the post-9/11 era – in the city where the 2001 terrorist attack took down the Twin Towers.
“New York was a little bit scary at times,” said South Carolina committeewoman Cindy Costa. But she said she’s not concerned about this year’s event. “I believe that our party … and the city of Cleveland have done everything they can think to do to keep our delegates safe.”
Steve Duprey, a New Hampshire committeeman, noted that in that 2004 convention, he was on a bus “that was almost tipped over.”
“These are different times and feelings are running high on political issues and party issues,” he said. “Obviously, there have been horrific incidents around the country, but overall I think people are really satisfied. I mean, there’s more being spent on security — there’s more forces being deployed. I think it’s going to be a very safe convention.”
Duprey said delegates haven’t been advised to take any extra safety precautions than they have been at other conventions. He said he expects delegates and guests to engage in the similar after-hours revelry that has accompanied previous conventions. Primarily, he said, attendees have been told to “be smart.” The security consultant, he added, essentially told RNC members “Here’s our plan, and we’ve got you covered, and it’ll be fine. I think most members are confident it’s going to be a great convention.”
Greg Coleridge, an organizer with the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee, said he’s worried about open-carry laws and the prospect for disruptions at the convention, expressed similar optimism that the event would be safe and non-violent.
“There are people who will be passionate, and will be angry, and will have conflicts with one another,” Coleridge said. “Conflict is inevitable. Being passionate is inevitable. Being disagreeable is inevitable. Violence is not, however, inevitable.”