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Outside RNC Convention, Heated Protests and Worries Over Guns


Protesters gather in the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, where the Republican National Convention is being held, July 18, 2016. Presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump will give a speech Thursday, the final night of the convention.

Protesters gather in the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, where the Republican National Convention is being held, July 18, 2016. Presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump will give a speech Thursday, the final night of the convention.

“God is going to kick you into Hell,” shouted one man.

“You homophobic, small-minded little bigots, go home!” another man responded.

It was a battle of loudspeakers in Cleveland’s public square between anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim activists and #DumpTrump protesters, debating each other in a place called War Memorial Plaza.

The presence of a handful of religious protesters, often holding fundamentalist views, is a common occurrence at high profile events in the United States, such as the Republican National Convention. But with tensions high, a line of police on bicycles separated them from those who had gathered to stage protests of their own.

Though far outnumbered, the men seeking to “preach the gospel” as they see it stood steady for half an hour, proudly displaying their signs:

"STOP BEING A SINNER AND OBEY JESUS.”

“EVERY REAL MUSLIM IS A JIHADIST!”

Jim Gilles of Evansville, Indiana, said he is a born-again Christian and joined a small group of people from around the country protesting Islam, in the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, July 18, 2016.

Jim Gilles of Evansville, Indiana, said he is a born-again Christian and joined a small group of people from around the country protesting Islam, in the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, July 18, 2016.

Then, to cheers from the other side of the police line, they abruptly packed up and left, vowing to be back the next day.

Just the beginning

Monday's protests could be just a preview of future confrontations, as the four-day convention plays out this week. Nerves are already on edge following recent ambush attacks on police in two southern cities, and state laws permitting protesters to openly carry firearms in much of the city are contributing to a sense of unease.

“It actually does worry me a bit” said Patrick Panagua, a protester from Chicago, who spoke while marching in solidarity with black, Muslim and LGBT activists.

WATCH: 360-view of protesters in Cleveland

He said presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's rhetoric "tries to put groups against each other, and I don’t believe that we necessarily have to have this ‘us against them’ mentality to achieve some sort of peace.”

But David Grisham, a Texas-native and member of the anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim protesters, argued that guns are not the problem.

“I’m concerned about the heart that carries the gun,” he said. “If you don’t have the morality in your heart, it don’t matter whether you got open carry or no carry!”

Willard Manning of West Monroe, Louisiana, calls himself "God's prophet," in the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, July 18, 2016. The Republican National Convention, being held a few blocks away in the Quicken Loans Arena, began Monday.

Willard Manning of West Monroe, Louisiana, calls himself "God's prophet," in the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, July 18, 2016. The Republican National Convention, being held a few blocks away in the Quicken Loans Arena, began Monday.

Open carry state

Many within Republican ranks, including Trump who will be formally nominated as the Republican candidate for president this week, are promoting a platform focused on restoring respect for law enforcement. They made the theme of Monday's convention activities, “Make America Safe Again.”

But the party, which historically has strongly defended language in the American Constitution enshrining the right to gun ownership, is now faced with a potentially hostile protest environment in a state that allows guns in the public square.

Any area outside a defined “secure zone” surrounding the convention hall where firearms are strictly prohibited, is fair game for licensed gun owners to protest – handguns, long guns, or shotguns included – as long as they remain visible to the naked eye.

Jesse Gonzalez of Lakewood, Ohio, who carried his rifle with him, speaks to the media after arriving near the Republican National Convention in downtown Cleveland, July 18, 2016.

Jesse Gonzalez of Lakewood, Ohio, who carried his rifle with him, speaks to the media after arriving near the Republican National Convention in downtown Cleveland, July 18, 2016.

But one day after a man in Louisiana gunned down three police officers, the wisdom of that policy is being questioned.

When Jesse Gonazlez of Lakewood, Ohio, walked into the square with a long rifle strapped over his back, he proclaimed his right to carry the weapon to a mob of reporters who quickly surrounded him.

Loren Spivack, a conservative author from Massachusetts, said he was largely reassured by the heavy police presence in Cleveland.

“You can never tell – bad things happen all over and it’s unfortunate – but there are a bazillion (very large number) cops here,” he said.

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