Authorities in Cleveland, Ohio, are adding fuel to an already “combustible” atmosphere, some activists say, as the city readies extra jail space and courtrooms and shuts down a local university to house 1,700 riot police and their weapons in preparation for demonstrations at next week’s Republican Party convention.
Democracy Now! reported Thursday that city officials “say some courts will be kept open almost 24 hours per day in case protesters are arrested en masse. Authorities have also opened up extra jail space to hold protesters.”
The decision to shut down classes at Case Western Reserve University to house riot police drew ire from students and faculty, as one professor described in Belt Magazine:
Adding tension to the situation in Cleveland is the fact that several Black Lives Matter protests last week saw mass arrests and violent behavior from police, leading civil rights groups in Louisiana to sue the Baton Rouge police force for violating demonstrators’ First Amendment rights—not to mention the fatal police shootings of two black men in St. Paul and Baton Rouge a week prior.
In Cleveland in particular, there is widespread distrust of the police department that fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and then lied about the circumstances of the killing to cover themselves.
Police nationwide have also been on edge since a lone gunman ambushed a peaceful protest in Dallas, killing five officers.
Moreover, it emerged on Thursday that officials from the FBI have been personally contacting civil rights activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement to warn them that they shouldn’t show up at the convention, the Independent reports.
“I think the FBI should be more concerned with investigating and dissuading the known white supremacists and people with ties to known terrorist organizations from attending the convention, versus trying to intimidate people who are speaking out against injustice,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, a civil rights activist contacted by the FBI, to the Independent.
The Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP made similar complaints last month in response to such tactics from local police.
Ratcheting tensions further, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is expected to draw out many passionate supporters of his divisive and racist rhetoric. As Ohio has an “open carry” law allowing the open display of guns, observers expect many convention-goers to be armed.
“Should violence break out during protests in Cleveland, open-carry activists bearing long-gun rifles may distract officers, frighten demonstrators, or inadvertently endanger themselves,” CityLab argued.
CityLab also noted that while “Ohio’s permissive open-carry laws introduce quite an X-factor into the proceedings[…] so does the Cleveland Police Department’s 2015 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, which remains unresolved. Then there is the fact that the RNC is a national and global event on a scale that Cleveland has never seen. (Certainly not in 1936, the last time the city hosted the RNC.)”
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