In July, GOP presidential candidates, influential party members, ordinary Republicans, protesters, and lots and lots of cops will convene in Cleveland for three days for the Republican National Convention. Things might get ugly.
RNC events pretty much always attract large-scale protests. In 2004, when the convention was held in New York, the NYPD arrested more than 1,800 people, and later paid out an $18 million settlement for violating their civil rights. Eight years later, in St. Paul, protests were smaller, but still led to hundreds of arrests. In 1968, there were demonstrations and clashes between cops and protesters on a historic scale. Back then, the police mostly carried batons; now, they have actual military gear.
The people of Cleveland have good reason to protest. In December, they took to the streets by the hundreds after the non-indictment of the Cleveland cop who killed Tamir Rice. The Republican field has hardly acknowledged the problems of racially biased and violent policing. The only guy who seemed to care at all dropped out last month.
John Kasich will be on his home turf, but might not be welcomed with open arms—he told Rice protesters they “need to be heard” after the acquittal, but also used the occasion to toot his own horn about the convention. “Because in the community of Cleveland, we have had great gains made, economically, not for everybody, but for a lot of people. It’s not by chance that the Republican convention is going to Cleveland. Why is it going there? Because when people went to Cleveland, they could not believe the turnaround and they couldn’t believe the progress. So we don’t want to go backwards,” he said at the time.
On top of all that, we have Donald Trump, who stopped just a single hair short of actively inciting riots if he is not awarded the nomination. “I think we’ll win before getting to the convention,” Trump said on CNN today. “But I can tell you, if we didn’t, and if we’re 20 votes short or if we’re 100 short, and we’re at 1100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400 — because we’re way ahead of everybody — I don’t think you can say that we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous — many, many millions of people.”
Trump was referring to the prospect of a brokered convention, which could see the party nominate a more traditionally palatable candidate if he does not win the necessary 1,237 delegates to lock the nomination. Of course, his supporters have proven themselves plenty violent on their own, and can probably be counted on to cause a scene with or without his encouragement.
Finally, there is the Cleveland Police Department itself, which presaged Trump’s call for rioting by announcing its plan to stock up on thousands of batons, barriers, and suits of body armor earlier this month. Cops in Cleveland handled protests quite peacefully earlier this year, but they’re not exactly monks. Two years before the Rice killing, the DOJ investigated the Cleveland PD for firing 137 shots at two unarmed black people, killing them both. Hopefully they show a bit more reserve in July.
Police and the Homeland Security agents that accompany them have gotten pretty good at “protecting” political conventions from lefty protesters, who usually show up with the intent of shouting and holding up signs, maybe disrupting an event or two. They haven’t yet had to deal with anything like the Trump contingent—right-wingers who might even be inclined to show up armed.