Ahead of Republican Convention worries about guns and terror trump the hoopla

Street barriers zigzag through downtown as city prepares to deploy massive police presence

A gun rights advocates shows off his weapons on Sunday
A gun rights advocates shows off his weapons on Sunday

Even as a carnival atmosphere reigned in parts of downtown Cleveland close to where the Republican Convention opens on Monday, tensions were rising as police commanders took new steps to ramp up security and officials sparred over laws allowing protestors to carry guns.

The Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, declined to act on a last-minute appeal from the leader of the city’s police union, Steve Loomis, to suspend laws allowing citizens openly to carry guns for the duration of the gathering where Donald Trump will be the main attraction.

Shudders went through the area on Sunday afternoon when an Ohio man showed up in the newly spruced-up Public Square, a main plaza a few blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena, the venue for the Convention, brandishing both a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun.

Steve Thacker, 57 had apparently come thinking he was going to be part of a larger pro-guns rally by a group called Northeast Ohio Open Carry, but it turned out he was the only one who showed up. “What I'm doing today is a statement about the right to bear arms,” he said later.

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Elsewhere, hawkers were already setting up stalls selling buttons, T-shirts and flags variously celebrating Mr Trump and scorning his likely rival in November, Hillary Clinton. Some groups had taken to the skies, renting small planes trailing banners with assorted messages including one saying Ms Clinton belonged in prison.

Various protests are expected in Cleveland in the coming days even though they will all be kept a safe distance from the Arena itself. But there is anxiety they could turn ugly if those opposed and in favour of Mr Trump becoming the Republican nominee and possibly the US president clash.

Police Chief Calvin Williams noted that it seems “everyone is coming” to Cleveland to have their say. He told a TV interviewer he had heard that anarchists, separatists, anti-Trump protesters, “everyone is coming to Cleveland to protest or exercise their First Amendment rights”.

Convention hats are a steal on the streets of Cleveland

He also revealed that the city has amended some of its security plans to put up extra street barriers as a direct response to the lorry massacre in Nice, southern France, last week. The shootings of police officers in Dallas two weeks ago and on Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has also led policy to review security arrangements.

”Things that happen around the country and around the world do affect to some degree how we respond here in Cleveland,“ Mr Williams said during an interview on CBS News.

Mr Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, told Fox News, meanwhile, that he would be asking Governor Kasich for exceptional measures to keep guns away from the convention venue for the whole week. He said he would also be insisting that police officers in the area patrol in groups of two or more and are never on the streets alone.

But the office of the Governor said banning guns was not a possibility. That even though there is a list of some 72 other items that protestors will be forbidden from bringing, from knuckle-dusters, to hammers and even mattresses and lightbulbs in case they can be used as weapons.

“Law enforcement is a noble, essential calling and we all grieve that we’ve seen attacks on officers,” his office said, before adding: “Ohio governors do not have the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws as suggested…”

In a news conference, Chief Williams attempted a reassuring note saying his officers will be trying to educate people on what they should and should not be doing with guns if they carry them,

“We try to get across to people, if you carry that weapon, you have that right to do it, but you also have responsibilities to the general public and people around you to make sure that everybody else is safe,“ he said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson insisted meanwhile that city officials ”aren't strangers to unrest and demonstrations and protests“ and that the city is prepared even if tens of thousands show up to make their mark on the convention.

Mr Loomis meanwhile used his TV appearance to argue that sympathy to the Black Lives Matter movement including from the White House has encouraged violence against police.

“The president of the Untied States validated a false narrative and the nonsense that Black Lives Matter and the Media are pressing out to the public,” he argued. “The president has blood on his hands and it will not be able to come washed off.”

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