With police on edge during a summer of bloodshed, hundreds of Donald Trump supporters and foes held dueling rallies a half-mile apart Monday in a tense, but mostly peaceful start to the four-day Republican National Convention.
About a dozen Trump backers showed up with handguns strapped to their belts as allowed under Ohio’s open-carry law. Blocks away, protesters shouted about police mistreatment.
People along the streets showered police officers with applause, hugs and a few insults.
No major clashes were reported between pro- and anti-Trump forces during the two biggest demonstrations on Monday’s schedule or at rallies held in the later afternoon and early evening.
“So far, so good,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said at a Monday night press briefing. Williams said there had been no violence and no property damage.
Jackie Cannella and her boyfriend, Tony Cella, arrived in the Cleveland area on Saturday with one goal in mind: Attend a rally in support of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.
On Monday afternoon, they did just that.
Asked why she’d travel all the way from Florida to attend, Cannella said it was a matter of showing solidarity for Trump.
“If there’s any chance of beating (Democratic presidential hopeful) Hillary (Clinton) — sorry, ‘Killary’ — we have to be unified,” she said.
Cannella, 55, and Cella, 67, attended a pro-Trump rally at Settlers Landing Park about a mile west of Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention officially kicked off on Monday.
The rally attracted almost a thousand people to the park to hear speakers in support of Trump’s nomination. Among the crowd were American flags waving in the wind, shirts reading “Hillary for prison,” cowboy hats and many signs accusing Clinton of war crimes.
Among the speakers was Chris Cox, head of Bikers for Trump.
Cox’s organization supports Trump because members believe he is the best man to fight the religious extremists known as the Islamic State. They also believe he will protect American borders from immigrants — both legal and illegal — and give veterans greater support.
“Because veterans want to see a wall built and we want Syrian refugees vetted, that doesn’t make us racist — it makes us patriots,” said Cox, to a round of cheers from the crowd.
Before Cox spoke, Cannella espoused similar ideologies.
“We need to protect our borders,” she said. “I admit I don’t know much about Islam. All I know is I don’t want people here who will destroy my country for my grandchildren.”
She blamed Democratic policies for putting Americans at risk.
“Democrats think nothing is wrong,” she said. “I think this country’s a mess. Trump can fix it.”
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.
In a plaza near Public Square, Black Lives Matter protesters called for more representation and respect for the black community across the nation. They pointed to events such as the recent police shootings of unarmed black men as proof that black lives don’t matter as much as white ones.
A religious organization challenged the protesters with a counter-protest, calling the minority group “sinners.” Several Black Lives Matter protesters erupted into rage in response.
One protester, 16-year-old Eleanora Mendoza, held a Communist flag as she shouted at the religious protesters.
“They’re going to sit here and tell me I’m going to hell when all I’ve done is fight for my people?” said Mendoza, of North Carolina. “When I’ve done nothing but help?
“They try to call us terrorists so that it might dehumanize us,” she said, “so that you don’t see us as the beautiful people that we are.”
Mendoza said the only way to fix America is to be unified as a people, not by party lines.
“The human race is a family,” she said. “We are all one family. We are all one love.”
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.
Even protesters complaining about police tactics were being respectful, he said. “Nobody’s been nasty to us,” he said.
Across town, the rap-metal supergroup Prophets of Rage played a 30-minute concert for a sparse crowd in Cleveland’s Public Square to protest the “racism, sexism and imperialism” in the Republican platform.
“Out here, human rights, respect for the planet and resistance to oppression is what we sing about,” the group’s Tom Morello told an audience of about 200.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Nick Glunt can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickGluntABJ.
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