CLEVELAND — Late on Wednesday afternoon, on the doorstep of the Republican National Convention, a small group of unassuming communists pulled black shirts out of their bags and over their heads, locked arms, and made a small, circular space for a flag burning.
A curl of smoke had barely reached eye level when police crashed through the human wall, spraying some kind of flame retardant at the burning flag and the man carrying it. Flag burning is protected speech, and police had not moved to disperse the gathered crowd until the flag was set alight.
The circle collapsed, and police wrestled protesters to the ground, putting knees in their backs and cuffs on their wrists. “Lock his Commie ass up,” a Trump supporter shouted as he fled the scrum. “Everything’s heating up,” intoned Vermin Supreme. “Everybody keep cool.”
Anarchists, black bandanas over their faces, slid between onlookers. An older lady in a brightly patterned dress accosted them. “I love you,” one said, pulling down his bandana to expose his cheek and pointing to it, asking for a kiss. The woman obliged.
Riot police ushered media and demonstrators away from the arena, towards a casino at the end of the street. “You media guys are worse than the protestors,” one Cleveland police officer said, after Gawker asked what a woman, handcuffed and sitting in the back of a police van, had been arrested for. “You get in the way, because you want to see what’s going on. But nothing’s happening, and you just make things worse.”