Security fears mount ahead of GOP convention

Story highlights

  • "Bikers for Trump" are among those protesting
  • Amnesty Int'l USA is sending human rights observers

(CNN)Concerns over security in Cleveland have been ramping up ahead of next week's Republican National Convention -- and are now further inflamed by recent incidents of racial violence that have wracked the country.

With Donald Trump expected to formally accept the GOP's presidential nomination, numerous protest groups for and against the billionaire developer are preparing to launch dozens of rallies and marches across the Ohio city, which is anticipating 50,000 visitors for the GOP's quadrennial gathering.
    And the blame game for whatever could go wrong in the streets has already begun.
    Throughout the primaries, Trump's campaign was marked by racial tensions and spasms of violence both inside his events and the surrounding areas. Heightening tensions now, the convention arrives amid a rising national tide of anger against police violence following the killings of two African American men and anxieties tied to the deadly ambush and killing of five officers in Dallas last week.
    Making matters worse, Ohio's open-carry gun laws have the head of "Bikers for Trump" telling CNN that Cleveland's streets could turn into "the O.K. Corral."
    State law does not regulate the carrying of guns, meaning that entrants to the convention's 1.7 square mile secure "event zone" are prohibited from bringing, among other things, weapons like swords, hatchets, axes, slingshots, BB guns, pellet guns and metal knuckles, but will be allowed to openly hold live firearms. (Guns are not permitted inside the arena itself, which has a ban on "weapons of any kind.")
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    "We're anticipating a victory dance, but it sounds like there's a lot of agitators and a lot of troublemakers coming to town," Chris Cox of Bikers for Trump said on Tuesday. "What happens remains to be seen, but you can definitely count on the Bikers for Trump standing with the police department in the event they need it."
    The police department -- currently under federal oversight by the Department of Justice after being cited in 2014 for "a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force" -- will be prepared for the worst, with millions of dollars in body armor and tactical weaponry.
    The Cleveland Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
    Doctors and surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic have also been told to remain on call -- and prepared for a situation in which the hospital is cut off from outside aid and supplies -- for the convention's four days, according to a report from Stat News, which covers health care.
    On Wednesday, Amnesty International USA announced it would be sending "human rights observers" to both Cleveland and Philadelphia, which will host the Democratic convention from July 25-28.
    "Given the inevitable demonstrations at each and the uptick we've seen in excessive force at protests recently, AIUSA felt it was crucial that we have folks on the ground," the group said in a statement.
    The city, like all convention hosts, was given a $50 million federal grant to boost security. About half of that is, according to a CNN report, believed to have gone toward, among other things, an order for 2,000 batons and protective suits.
    The first key test for law enforcement comes Monday, the opening day of the four-day convention, when Citizens for Trump is scheduled to hold a rally expected to attract more than a thousand people to Settler's Landing Park, less than a mile from where Republican delegates will be gathering at the Quicken Loans Arena.
    "We've hired special forces teams for security," the group's executive director, Tim Selaty, told CNN, declining to specify who would provide that extra security. "The Secret Service is well aware of what we're doing and they're going to be provided with everything they need to work in tandem with the local local law enforcement."
    Selaty said he was less concerned by the potential for clashes with anti-Trump demonstrators than a "lone wolf" attack like the one that rocked Dallas.
    Cleveland will be the first city to host a national political convention while under federal oversight, a state of affairs precipitated by a series of high-profile, deadly shootings of young black men and women -- most notably, 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
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    The city accepted the Justice Department's findings after its second review in a dozen years, signing a consent decree and agreeing to reforms over a set timeline.
    "I feel like we're doing the right things and I feel the community recognizes that, and we've been receiving kudos and acknowledgment, so I'm just hopeful that something doesn't happen during this RNC that's going to cause that to really be a setback to the momentum that we're enjoying," City Councilman and Public Safety Committee chair Matt Zone, told CNN.
    Not everyone is convinced.
    Alfred Porter Jr., president of Black on Black Crime, Inc., a decades-old anti-violence group that has marched with Black Lives Matter-affiliated protesters, said he expected the police "to be dressed up like RoboCop, with snipers on the roof."
    "Our message is not only against Donald Trump, it's issue based," Porter said. "Our speaking will deal with the fact that the city of Cleveland spent $54 million on the downtown area and our inner cities are bleak."
    The potential for clashes with pro-Trump groups caused months of anxiety for Susan Schnur, whose small "Shutdown Trump and the RNC" group will march Sunday. Schnur is wary of what she described as "right-wing vigilante militia type groups."
    Zone is taking a more measured view of the days to come.
    "You're going to see conflict, it's going to happen, it happens at every convention," he said. "It's just a matter now of how we manage it and deal with and respond to it."