The first major test of whether violence would erupt in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention happened Sunday, with protesters chanting anti-police messages while marching alongside a long line of police officers.
The march and rally, attended by hundreds of people wielding signs for various causes, ended peacefully.
“The power is not at the ballot box,” one of the protesters shouted into a bullhorn as the event wound down. “The power is here in the street!”
The event, organized by the Shut Down Trump & the RNC Committee, is among numerous protests planned by different groups this week, many of which occurred Sunday, the day before the convention convened.
Several hundred people gathered at a peaceful rally along a major bridge near downtown Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
The “Circle the City With Love” event began with a Dixieland-style band leading participants onto the bridge. Once people lined the entire bridge on either side, they held hands and waited in silence for several minutes.
After an air horn signaled the end of the vigil, the participants, including several children, walked back off the bridge.
Another protest planned for Sunday fizzled. A group called Northeast Ohio Open Carry had planned a noon rally Sunday in downtown Cleveland, but only 57-year-old Steve Thacker showed up with guns. He drew attention from news media as Cleveland police officers milled nearby and a line of around 60 police bicyclists took a break before pedaling off.
Thacker said he carried a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun to make a statement about his rights. He complained that fees and background checks associated with purchasing weapons results in the government “selling back” his privilege to buy and own firearms.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland police union asked Gov. John Kasich to suspend Ohio’s laws allowing the carrying of weapons around the RNC, according to several local and national news organizations.
Kasich responded that it is not in his power to suspend the law.
The Shut Down Trump & the RNC march began east of Cleveland State University and headed toward the museum area, where all RNC delegates had been invited to assemble for a reception.
They carried signs with a myriad of messages, including “Black Lives Matter,” “No Racism/No Fascism,” “[Donald] Trump is a Capitalist Pig,” “Refugees Welcome,” and “Free Palestine.” At times, the group had two chants going on at the same time.
As they made their way toward downtown, people stopped to watch, among them delegates and their families.
Jan McMahan, whose husband is an alternate delegate from Arkansas, said she heard what was going on, so she walked down to see.
“It’s sad they have to do this, but it’s a free country,” she said. “They can stand up for what they believe.”
McMahan said she hopes no one gets hurt.
Marching with the protesters were representatives of the D.C. Peace Team, a nonpartisan, nonviolence organization that attempts to defuse tense situations.
Team member John Reuwer from Harrisburg, Pa., said, “The idea is to keep everybody safe.” He was pleased the protest was proceeding without any violence. “So far, so good,” he said.
Police officers had a commanding presence during the event, though, with a line of black-clad officers on bicycles forming a perimeter for the demonstrators. Some of the officers wore black outer body armor and helmets that nearly covered their faces.
As the officers rode or walked their bikes, the protesters rotated among chants that included a few with anti-police slants, like, “No justice! No peace! No racist police!”
Some of the protesters were motivated to attend the event for more than one reason. Len Piechowski of Cleveland is white but his son and grandson are African-American, so he said “black lives matter” to him. He also is gay and said the rights of homosexuals are important to him.
“I couldn’t sit at home and let the RNC go unanswered,” said Piechowski, who held a “Defend Black Lives Matter” sign.
A protester from the group Code Pink that promotes an anti-war message stopped during the march and wrote in light blue chalk on the street, “We come in peace.”
The protest ended in the street at Ninth and Lakeside just outside of Willard Park, the spot designated for demonstrators. Some of the protesters were still upset that they aren’t allowed to demonstrate closer to Quicken Loans Arena where the convention is being held.
“We have the First Amendment right to do whatever the f*** we want,” said Scott Williams, a protester from Philadelphia. “They’re keeping us a mile and a half away!”
A man dressed in a pink Polo shirt walked through the waning protest on the way to the RNC festivities that evening, escorted by a police officer.
“This is great,” he said, looking at the protesters. “This is what our country is founded on.”
Videos by Beacon Journal correspondent Angel Evans can be found on the Beacon Journal Facebook page.
Stephanie Warsmith. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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