Cleveland Steels Itself for Violence at the Republican National Convention

The police department is buying 2,000 new sets of riot gear, even as it begins mandated reforms monitored by the DOJ.

Image Rebecca Cook/Reuters
A protester outside a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 12. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

In advance of the Republican National Convention in July, Cleveland is looking to boost its police department’s power by purchasing 2,000 sets of riot gear. The violence that attended Friday’s rally for Donald Trump in Chicago doesn’t explain why, either. Cleveland put its plans in motion before that eruption between protesters and Trump supporters.

Cleveland has a lot riding on this RNC gathering. Last August, the city shined as the host of the first Republican debate. Last March, the City Club of Cleveland even convened a panel to discuss various ways the city might prepare for the convention, when all eyes will be on Cleveland. One of the big efforts underway, the $50 million renovation of Public Square by James Corner Field Operations, is on track to finish early, in time for the big dance.

Yet the attention that the GOP will shower on Cleveland is not bound to be wholly flattering, if the party’s present trajectory is any indication. The tenor of the primary election has changed dramatically since Trump’s standoff with Fox News host Megyn Kelly during that first debate in 2015. In recent weeks, Trump has incited violence against protesters who appear at his rallies—through hypernationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric, pledges of legal support for followers who are charged with assault, and direct appeals to for violence.

There’s no guarantee that Trump will appear at the top of the ticket when the RNC comes to Cleveland in July. Tuesday’s big winner-take-all primaries in Ohio and Florida may go a long way toward sealing Trump’s nomination, should he win both contests. And if he does win the nomination, chaos in Cleveland is virtually guaranteed this summer, both inside and outside the convention hall.

A group of Trump supporters calling itself “The Lion’s Guard” aims to serve as a militia-style security force for attendees at Trump rallies. Trump himself has dismissed all evidence of violence at his rallies, calling them “lovefests.”

Beyond the negative optics of potentially violent confrontations between protesters, Republican voters, and police, large-scale clashes represent a problem specifically for the Cleveland Division of Police. The city is still reeling from the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice at the hands of officer Timothy Loehmann in 2014. A different officer, Michael Brelo, was acquitted in May in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were shot a total of 137 times after a police chase.

Their deaths led Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson to call for a federal investigation, which led to a settlement (known as a consent decree) last year between the Cleveland Division of Police and the U.S. Department of Justice. Last week, a body called the Cleveland Community Police Commission produced a 107-page report outlining reforms for the department.

Many of those recommendations cannot be easily quantified, according to a report in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The riot-gear armor, however, comes with a specific figure attached: 2,000 “Elite Defender” suits and 26-inch batons. Perhaps that’s why the regional chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is using its annual conference, planned for later this week, to focus on ways that lawyers and activists can monitor police and support protesters who are jailed.

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps is a writer at CityLab. Previously, he was a senior editor at Architect magazine.