CLEVELAND ― Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Revolutionary Communist Party, anti-police-brutality protesters, militia members wearing semi-automatic weapons, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones walked into a public square on Tuesday. Nobody was arrested.
Hundreds of officers policing protests surrounding the Republican National Convention here faced one of their first major tests Tuesday as demonstrators gathered to sound off on a variety of topics in Public Square, located a few blocks away from the Quicken Loans Arena. Later, as protesters took to the streets, officers used their bikes to block their path to the place where Donald Trump officially became the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.
Jones, a right-wing radio host who operates the website InfoWars and has supported conspiracy theories around Sept. 11 and mass shootings, was escorted away from the protests by agents of the state after a physical confrontation in which Jones appeared to have been shoved. InfoWars called the protesters “violent leftists” and “rabid commies.”
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said there were no arrests during the demonstrations at Public Square. While officers temporarily shut down access to the area, only allowing demonstrators to leave the area and slowly nudging protesters out, they never took anyone into custody. Williams said the bikes being used by officers to police protests had been very effective.
A responsible and professional response to demonstrations had not been guaranteed going into the protests in Cleveland. Especially after the murder of five police officers in Dallas during a protest associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, tensions were high. The Cleveland Police Department, which was heavily criticized in a Justice Department report that found systemic brutality, has come under close scrutiny after one of its officers shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014.
In preparation for the convention, police stocked up on less-than-lethal ammunition and riot gear. News outlets (including The Huffington Post) dispatched reporters to Cleveland with the primary assignment of covering the unrest and the police reaction.
But as of Tuesday evening, all signs indicated that the police would not overreact to demonstrations. They appeared to be attempting to avoid making arrests. While having a variety of agencies from across the country assisting Cleveland in policing the demonstrations led to some minor issues (officers from some agencies were not wearing name plates or displaying badge numbers, for example) the approach to the protests was consistent.
Additional reporting by Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the Revolutionary Communist Party as the “Revolutionary Community Party.”