Protesters and law enforcement engaged in their most intense confrontation yet at the Republican National Convention Tuesday as disparate groups clashed in downtown Cleveland, blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena.
Officers from the South Carolina highway patrol and from the City of Fort Worth joined Cleveland police in forming lines in the city’s Public Square, separating Communist Party supporters; people protesting the shootings of African Americans by police; religious anti-gay demonstrators; and conservative conspiracy theorist and talk radio host Alex Jones.
Jones shouted “dirty communists” in a bullhorn, and another group responded by singing “Solidarity Forever.”
Someone reportedly took a swing or threw a punch and in seconds an army of Cleveland police officers arrived to separate the groups and push back onlookers.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams was also there and, at one point, talked to protesters dressed in black and wearing bandanas over their mouths.
There were no injuries or arrests from Tuesday’s encounter. However, police have made five arrests since the convention began — one on an outstanding warrant and another on a petty theft charge for pulling a gas mask off a police officer.
Three individuals have been charged with criminal trespass for climbing a flag pole outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame downtown.
Before Tuesday’s encounter, demonstrations were raucous events but with fewer people gathering than expected. Police officers on bicycles rode alongside marchers or stood close by.
But as the situation in Public Square deteriorated, police on foot, horseback, and some bicycle officers wearing turtle-shell-like body armor swooped in, diffusing tensions.
Some conventioneers and protesters have said fear of violence has diminished the protesting crowds in Cleveland, but Tuesday’s action showed that the crowds are growing.
Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia, canceled trips to the Republican and Democratic conventions for 50 journalism students because of security fears.
“This decision was made after thoughtful consideration with the safety of our students being the university’s No. 1 priority,” B. Da’Vida Plummer, dean of Hampton’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications, wrote in a memo.
But Kathleen Roche, a Cleveland resident who witnessed the square’s protests, said despite Tuesday’s outburst, she felt safe.
“... The Republican convention is great; the Democratic convention is going to be safe,” Roche said. “People have a right to express their opinion. The cops were good; the protesters were good. It was an A-plus day.”
Dave Berry of the Miami Herald and McClatchy Washington Bureau reporters Siri Bulusu and Hannah Rank contributed.