Cleveland braces for protests ahead of GOP convention

Security tightens as open-carry gun advocates and rival groups expected to rally outside the Republic convention.

    Cleveland braces for protests ahead of GOP convention
    Cleveland has imposed extra security precautions ahead of anti-Trump protests [Dalia Hatuqa/Al Jazeera]

    Cleveland, Ohio - In the countdown to the Republican National Convention, the City of Cleveland is bracing for potentially large and rowdy rallies, as controversy around the presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, intensifies.

    The Rise of Trump - Fault Lines

    Both pro- and anti-Trump groups, as well as groups with contrasting views on various hot-button issues, are set to demonstrate close to the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, where the convention is taking place starting on Monday for four days.

    Citing security concerns, the City of Cleveland had originally tried to limit the scope and time of the planned protests but finally approved regulation changes that allow demonstrators closer to the RNC site and increase the time and space permitted for protesting.

    The changes came after The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued the city, and in late June, a federal judge ruled that the city's original rules were in contravention of the right of free expression.

    An agreement was struck between the two sides. Accordingly, the parade route was extended to include areas around the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention is taking place. The march, however, will not be permitted to pass directly by the arena.

    "City officials found that this agreement would meet their security needs," said Steve David communications manager for ACLU's Ohio chapter. "It was narrowly focused and didn't sweep in these areas that would restrict folks' ability to express themselves."

    Ensuring safety and security whilst safeguarding First Amendment rights will be a tough challenge for authorities: Trump rallies have been chaotic at times, and the GOP convention comes in the wake of a deadly sniper attack in Dallas, Texas, that left five law enforcement officers dead.

    This followed the police killings of two African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the worst mass shooting in recent US history at a Florida nightclub.

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    "This agreement really shows that security and peoples fundamental right of expression aren't opposing forces," David told Al Jazeera.

    "One of the things that came as a result of the litigation was extending the times for marches and the city agreed to add buffer times for different groups - adequate times so people won't be put directly against each other."

    The GOP convention comes just days after Trump introduced his VP candidate, Mike Pence [Dalia Hatuqa/Al Jazeera] 

    Pro- and anti-Trump groups have clashed before: In May, in San Diego, baton-wielding police had to disperse protesters, and in San Jose, supporters of the celebrity business tycoon running for office were viciously attacked.

    Trump even warned at one point that riots were a possibility if a contested GOP convention led to his nomination being taken away.

    Ohio gun laws in spotlight

    Fears of violence are intensifying with Ohio's laws allowing guns to be carried openly or concealed with a valid permit in the zone where demonstrations and events related to the convention will be held.

    Ohio Governor John Kasich said on Sunday that he doesn't have the authority to suspend the state law allowing people to openly carry guns, after a request was made by the Cleveland police union president for the suspension of the law during the convetion. 

    The request for a temproary suspension of the open carry law came after an assailant on Sunday shot and killed three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

    No state permit or license is required to purchase a handgun, rifle, or shotgun in Ohio, according to the National Rifle Association. Unlike firearms, demonstrators will be prohibited from carrying toy guns, umbrellas with sharp tips, tennis balls and canned goods.

    Protests against Trump at US Republican convention

    Many groups representing various interests, from black rights to climate change, are set to converge in Ohio, and some, like the Oath Keepers - a militia group described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group" - have said they will be carrying guns near the convention area.

    The City of Cleveland is accordingly tightening up its security measures. A small parameter surrounding the Republican gathering venue will not allow guns, and delegates will be forbidden from taking weapons onto the convention floor.

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    Brian Kazy, a member of the Cleveland City Council and its Safety Committee, told Al Jazeera that there were concerns that it would be difficult for police to differentiate between potential suspects and protesters carrying guns legally.

    "I'm neither pro- or anti-gun," Kazy said. "I understand and accept the Second Amendment right to carry a firearm, but the concern arises when you have thousands of people and it's difficult to find out who has a CCW (concealed carry) permit. We don't need a re-enactment of the Wild Wild West in downtown Cleveland."

    Despite these fears, some groups are still supporting having people carry their guns near Cleveland's downtown area.

    "There are lots of people who will be there, not just to protest: people who work in the area and others who may just want to know what's going on," said Brett Pucillo, President of Ohio Carry, a gun-rights advocacy group. "They should not lose their right to defend themselves."

    Ohio Carry will not be among the various groups protesting downtown, Pucillo told Al Jazeera, adding: "We would say it's people's personal decision if they choose to either carry their guns or leave them at home at that time. Their safety is the most important aspect for us."

    Follow Dalia Hatuqa on Twitter: @DaliaHatuqa 

    The Rise of Trump - Fault Lines

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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