Safe GOP convention boosts Cleveland’s image to the world


CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland’s safe and successful turn as host of the Republican National Convention has helped establish it as an ideal location for large events but also a city that people will consider when deciding where to live and do business, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said Friday.

“It really puts us in a different light with a different image,” the mayor said at a news briefing.

Police reported a total of 24 arrests during the four-day convention that ended Thursday night, a surprisingly low number that can be attributed to a massive police presence and to safety concerns that discouraged protesters and visitors from coming to Cleveland this week.

About 2,800 law enforcement officers from around the country joined 500 Cleveland officers for a security force that responded quickly to hints of trouble. Three hundred police officers patrolled downtown on bicycles, with Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams spending parts of two days riding along on patrols.

The demonstrations that many feared would end in pitched battles between police and protesters turned at times into carnival-like scenes on Public Square, the city’s commons, with bongo players, protesters dressed as nuns on stilts and children and adults alike splashing in the square’s water feature.

There were tense moments and some angry words over the four days as anarchists, anti-Muslim protesters and pro-capitalist groups congregated on the square. Yet most people seemed to get along as even those with divergent views on politics and other matters engaged in respectful discussions. By Thursday evening, law enforcement officers appeared to relax. Some played ping pong with visitors to the square while others kicked a soccer ball around with children.

At one point, Chief Williams joined a prayer circle.

“You don’t pull something like this off without a little luck and a lot of prayers,” Williams said Friday.

Early Friday afternoon, Cleveland had mostly pulled itself back together. Security fencing and barriers that had blocked some downtown streets had been removed while hotels emptied. Just a few people lingered on Public Square on an oppressively warm day. A street vendor pushed a car with drastically reduced convention-related items, including red baseball caps emblazoned with “Make America Great” at half price. Seven Cleveland police bicycle officers circled the empty square before riding off.

Without question, there was an “extremely heavy police presence” in Cleveland, with officers for the most part protecting people’s right to peacefully protest, said Eric Ferrero, an Amnesty International deputy executive director who helped oversee teams of observers in Cleveland.

“Our observers have been at some protests where there’s been more police than protesters,” Ferrero said.

Protesters and demonstrators themselves numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands as had been hoped.

“We had big groups that said they were coming in that got dwindled down to nothing,” said Larry Bresler, lead organizer of a Stop Poverty Now rally. “They weren’t coming to Cleveland because the fear of violence.”

Fears of violence were stoked by the ambush killings of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this month and by Ohio’s open-carry law, which allows gun owners to carry their weapons in plain sight.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump also caused concerns earlier this year when he claimed there would be riots in the streets of Cleveland if he collected the required number of delegates and the GOP were to deny him the nomination.

A small number of people openly carried guns during some of the protests but caused no reported problems. By the end of the convention, those who entered the Public Square with weapons were mostly ignored.

Cleveland police were “outstanding” in protecting the America First Unity Rally on Monday and preventing anti-Trump protesters from crashing the event, said organizer Tim Selaty Sr. The rally drew about 400 people, far fewer than expected, he said.

Glenn Wilcoxson, of Clearwater, Florida, who spent the week selling Trump shirts, hats and stickers, said he didn’t know what to expect given what was on the news beforehand.

“It was going to be massive riots and problems, but we got here and there have been very little problems,” he said. “The police have done such a wonderful job, unbelievable.”

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Michael R. Sisak and Michael Hill in Cleveland, John Seewer in Toledo and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.

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