Cleveland tense and divided as Trump juggernaut arrives
Ohio city on heightened alert for Republican convention after Baton Rouge police shooting
Cleveland police patrol Cleveland city ahead of the four-day Republican National Convention. An estimated 50,000 people are expected to attend. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A man carries an AR-15-style weapon as he attends an “open carry” event in Cleveland. The city’s police union asked for a suspension of the open carry law but the state’s Republican governor John Kasich said he did not have the authority to do so. Photograph: Ivan Couronne/AFP/Getty Images
A fortified security perimeter and high metal fences have turned Cleveland into a divided city, reflecting the divisions in the Republican Party it is hosting this week.
The security concerns were palpable ahead of the start of the Republican national convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland on Monday as the Trump entourage arrives in town for the billionaire’s coronation as the Republican standard-bearer in November’s presidential election.
Police officers were in an even more heightened state of alert preparing for the arrival of an estimated 50,000 visitors as the city’s authorities digested news of another lethal attack on police officers, this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The decision to cordon off the blocks around the convention venue with large protective barriers was taken before a French-Tunisian man ploughed into a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations in the southern French city of Nice, killing 84 people.
Since Friday’s attack in France, a snow plough was added to the city’s defences.
Cleveland is not on lockdown but it feels like a city on edge as thousands of law enforcement officers with an alphabet soup of acronyms on their uniforms and bulletproof vests representing the many US federal agencies that are policing the city.
The city’s police union asked for a suspension of Ohio’s “open carry” law, which allows legal gun owners to carry firearms in plain sight, in the wake of the Baton Rouge shooting, but the state’s Republican governor John Kasich, who lost out to Trump and is not attending the convention, said he did not have the authority to do so.
Since the attacks in Orlando, Dallas and Nice, security has become a major election issue too. In a rambling speech introducing his running mate in New York on Saturday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump touted himself and his vice-presidential pick, Indiana governor Mike Pence, as the “law and order candidates”.
Whether “the law” – highly visible in Cleveland – can maintain order remains to be seen as white supremacists, black nationalists and religious splinter groups are expected to be among the demonstrators descending on the Ohio city to protest against a divisive candidate that has stoked tensions with a racist, misogynist, nativist campaign.
“I’m going to avoid all this. It could get pretty dicey around here,” said Kyle Weissberg (26) walking with friends through the Gateway District nightlife hub next to the convention arena. A number of bars on E 4th Street have been commandeered by US TV networks that will be broadcasting every moment of this political pageant.
Weissberg’s friends have been been given time off because they work within the security cordon and are leaving town for the duration of the convention.
“The Trump Show,” said Michelle Pereus (24) when asked what she is expecting in Cleveland over the coming four days. “Whenever Trump speaks, there is always some kind of madness. He is here all week. I don’t want to be around that. I am leaving.”
“We don’t want things to turn violent,” said her friend Kirsten Krolikowski (23). “You just never know in this type of situation, in this world we are in right now.”
The atmosphere is tense inside the security cordon too. The last two Republican presidents, George HW and George W Bush, along with the party’s last two presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, are skipping the convention in opposition to Mr Trump’s polarising campaign.
The entertainment mogul’s involvement will make this year’s quadrennial event, designed to introduce the Republican ticket, like no other.
“Conventions in the last several generations have been made-for-TV productions; this is going to be more of a reality-TV production,” said Republican strategist John Feehery, a veteran of the party’s conventions.
“There are going to be made-up conflicts; it will be celebrity-based – just think of it as one big episode of The Apprentice [the billionaire’s American television series].”
The convention’s opening-day schedule starts at 5.30pm on Monday (10.30pm Irish time), with the headline act being the New York billionaire’s introduction of his would-be first lady Melania, a former supermodel. She will join former New York City mayor and one-time presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani among the first-day speakers.
Mr Trump promoted Mr Pence on Saturday as the man who could unify the party he has fractured with his blustering campaign. Some attending the convention are not feeling the unity and don’t plan to ever support him, regardless of his running mate.
“Everything that he has done has just turned me off. I can’t believe that he is our nominee,” said, Connie Matia (54) from Cleveland, a self-professed “Never Trumper” wearing a stars-and-stripes dress and standing near the security gate into the arena. She is volunteering at the convention as a supporter of the party, not Trump.
“It really puts me between a rock and a hard place because I am not happy about Hillary [Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee] either. As a conservative, what do you do? It is very hard. I am in a swing state. I am a swing-state voter.”