Philadelphia readies for DNC after quiet Cleveland protests


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As Cleveland breathes a sigh of relief after protests during the Republican convention came and went without mass disruptions and violence, eyes now turn to Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth largest city that offers a bigger stage for bigger protests over a much larger area.

Cleveland’s marches and rallies ended quietly Thursday with two dozen arrests over four days. Philadelphia is cautiously optimistic its Democratic National Convention can follow in those footsteps while letting protesters have their say.

“Obviously the destruction of property or hurting someone is a non-starter, but you can be as angry and loud as you want to be,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.

Several factors could make Philadelphia’s protests vastly different than those in Cleveland, including the city’s sprawling protest sites, from downtown to the convention site four miles away, and the sheer number of protesters expected, estimated at 50,000 each day.

Kenney wouldn’t say how many officers will be on the streets during the protests, but said the city’s “exemplary” police force is ready.

“It’s not easy to have someone screaming epithets in your face two inches away from your nose. But to be a professional police officer, that’s what you have to deal with,” he said.

The ambush killings of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this month stoked fears of violence and bloodshed at the conventions.

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. About 500 Cleveland police and thousands of law enforcement officers from around the country were assigned to convention security.

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

Organizers of some of the rallies and marches also said fears of violence kept many people away. Most crowds numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands.

Cleveland’s entire protest zone was 1.7 square miles, and the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention was held, was on the western edge of it.

In Philadelphia, thousands of protesters are to rally at a park near the Wells Fargo Center throughout the convention. But many plan to start their marches at City Hall, four miles north. Most plan to leave from City Hall and travel to the park on Broad Street — a major north-south artery that links downtown with the convention site. Several permitted marches are back-to-back, on Broad Street and streets near Independence Hall. Other rallies are set for various plazas and parks around downtown. And those are just demonstrations with permits.

The city estimates 35,000 to 50,000 protesters on average will demonstrate across Philadelphia each day of the convention. Activists have said they expect about 100,000.

Ease of access also might boost the numbers at Philadelphia protests. Heavily traveled Interstate 95, which cuts through the city, is an easy drive from many spots along the densely populated Eastern Seaboard. Add to that low bus fares from New York City, Washington and other highly populated areas along the corridor, and suddenly protesting is possible even for folks without a place to stay overnight.

One activist and supporter of former presidential contender Bernie Sanders said police cooperation with protest groups and Sanders’ endorsement of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could work to keep marches and rallies toned down.

Jeff Epstein, a senior director for Philly.FYI, said the activist group had meetings with law enforcement officials in the weeks leading up to the convention that were “nothing but supportive.”

He said some officers will march with his group during its “March4Bernie” on Sunday, from near City Hall to the park across from the convention site. The group anticipates 3,000 participants in the Sunday march and 30,000 to rally at its section of the park over the course of the convention.

In Cleveland, demonstrators backing almost every issue imaginable — from black anarchists and members of the Revolutionary Communist Party to right-wing religious types — mixed with anti-Trump protesters and groups opposed to gay rights, police and illegal immigration, making for a carnival-like scene in downtown’s Public Square.

A large number of Philadelphia demonstrators are Sanders supporters who plan to de-register from the Democratic Party if he isn’t made the nominee. The rest run the gamut of progressive and far-left issues: anti-fracking, immigration reform, curbing gun violence, clean energy, ending poverty and homelessness and criminal justice reform, to name a few. A lone “Trump for PA” rally of about 100 people is set in a park about a mile north of the Wells Fargo Center.

Black activists plan to march and rally, but it’s unclear what role the Black Lives Matter movement will have in the Philadelphia protests.

Laurie Cestnick, an organizer with a group called Occupy DNC convention, said she expects her march and rallies in support of Sanders to be peaceful. About 5,000 protesters are signed up for the Monday march, she said.

“Our main goal is to be heard, to be seen and make a difference,” she said. “We still want to want to make a very strong statement and be assertive.”

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Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey in Philadelphia, Mark Gillespie, 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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