POLITICS

Cleveland tense amid threats of protests and terror during Republican convention

A group of about 200 activists took to the streets in Cleveland on Sunday, July 17, 2016.

A group of about 200 activists took to the streets in Cleveland on Sunday, July 17, 2016.  (FNL/Andrew O'Reilly)

With the Republican National Convention officially kicking off in Cleveland on Monday, there is a nervous energy in the city as it readies for its moment in the political spotlight and law enforcement preps for widespread protests and demonstrations from groups on both sides of the political divide.

The area around the Quicken Loans Arena, which is hosting the convention, and much of downtown Cleveland is encased in a tight, security perimeter with 8-foot high metal fencing, concrete barricades and military-style checkpoints controlling the flow of traffic and pedestrians around the event.

Anyone in this country who is not worried about the actions of the police, especially a person of color, is misguided. The police have opened up a war against particularly the black community, but Latinos have as well.

- Teresa Gutierrez, demonstrator

There are a total of 5,500 law enforcement officers assigned to the RNC, including 3,000 federal officers, 2,000 non-federal officers working the Cleveland Police Department and about 500 Cleveland police officers. The heavy police presence in the city, which is on hand not only to deal with protesters but also thwart any terror attacks, is both a comfort and a concern to residents of the Forest City.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cleveland resident Sheila Rodriguez told Fox News Latino. “If everyone is gathered in one place and everyone’s attention is focused on one place, a lot of things can happen.”

With the recent terror attacks in France, along with the shooting of five Dallas police officers and three in Baton Rouge just this weekend, much of the focus regarding security in Cleveland ahead of the RNC has centered on possible attacks.

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However, the most visible disruptions are anticipated to come from the more than 11,000 protesters expected to descend on the city for the four-day convention.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has been marred by clashes between those who support the GOP candidate and those who oppose him and his divisive rhetoric. While 58 actual groups have been granted permits to demonstrate during the convention, city officials expect many more unauthorized protests to take place in the coming days -- from groups ranging from immigration and civil rights groups to anarchists and black separatists.

Cleveland police got its first taste of what is to come on Sunday, as a group of about 200 activists took to the streets to march from the city’s midtown section toward the Convention Center, where much of the media covering the event is housed.

Called “Shutdown Trump and the RNC,” the group – consisting of demonstrators from immigrant rights groups, Black Lives Matter members, LGBT groups and others – was ushered through the city streets by heavy police presence, including a number of squad cars that blocked off intersections and a group of bike cops that kept demonstrators out of oncoming traffic.

Despite confusion over the group’s permit and some tense moments with a few protesters taunting the cops, the protesters made their way downtown peacefully.  

The nature of Sunday’s protest may be a good omen for the rest of the week, but law enforcement’s first big test will come on Monday as a much larger anti-Trump march is expected to take place and make its way toward the Quicken Loans Arena.

The Associated Press reported that Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said that city officials “aren’t strangers to unrest and demonstrations and protests” and insisted that the city is prepared for the event.

While there have been numerous reports about the disruptions that protests could cause during the convention, demonstrators on Sunday said that in light of the recent police-related shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota it is law enforcement that people should be concerned about.

“Anyone in this country who is not worried about the actions of the police, especially a person of color, is misguided,” Teresa Gutierrez, a demonstrator at the Shutdown Trump rally told FNL. “The police have opened up a war against particularly the black community, but Latinos have as well.”

Gutierrez added, however, that she and her fellow protesters will not be deterred by the heavy police presence in Cleveland this week.

“We are prepared, we are well organized, we have speakers, we have security, we have a message,” she said. “We feel that our voice really represents the sentiment of the people in this country.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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