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Cleveland braces for spotlight as home of Republican National Convention

July 18,2016 05:22

Over the course of one weekend, Cleveland finally got the attention it has long craved, but in the most brutal way. As Donald Trump readies to accept the nomination of the Republican Party at the Quicken Loans Arena this week, the eyes of the planet ...

Over the course of one weekend, Cleveland finally got the attention it has
long craved, but for all the wrong reasons. As Donald Trump readies to accept
the nomination of the Republican Party here this week, the eyes of the planet
are trained on this anxious city – not because of the urban miracle that has
transformed the city once called “the mistake by the lake” but because of the
mayhem that is descending on it. Despite the decades of civic improvement, one of
the world’s best orchestras and an NBA title, Cleveland is no longer that
Cleveland. Instead, it has become the accidental destination for all that ails
the country, if not the world, a volatile laboratory of gun control, racial
tensions, policing and protest. And Mr. Trump is the provocateur who could
either tamp it down or blow it up.

Just as Cleveland finished its careful preparations for the four-day
Republican National Convention, violence in Baton Rouge, La., and Nice, France,
disrupted plans and turned it into pop-up mayhem. On Sunday, a gunman in the
Louisiana capital shot and killed three police officers in an ambush. On
Thursday night, a terrorist in the French seaside resort killed at least 84
people while driving a 19-tonne truck.Related: What to watch for at the Republican National ConventionThe fear from the attacks became viral and universal, the kind of
globalization that no wall can shut out. For a moment at least, Cleveland had to
set aside concerns about the pageantry of anger coming to town: the Bikers for
Trump; the right-wing militants from the Oath Keepers; the anarchists using
black bloc techniques; and the New Black Panthers. It had to think about
trucks.Police erected concrete barriers in front of critical government buildings.
The city started looking a little more like Beirut. But then in the middle of
downtown, snow plows arrived, the great monsters of the Great Lakes blocking the
vehicle entrances to Public Square. “[They] will stop pretty much anything,”
noted a memo sent out by Densus, a Cleveland-based security advisory company. As
for the concrete barriers, “They will stop most large vehicles, unless the
driver is very lucky.”ANALYSIS: What the GOP convention speakers list says about Donald TrumpHelicopters hover, forcing people walking on Euclid Avenue to glance up from
their iPhones and remember the sky. Dozens of sweltering policeman glide past
like black swans on bicycles, dressed in heavy helmets and bulletproof vests.
They are supposed to put people’s worries to rest, but they look so suffocated
in the unremitting sun that they themselves might detonate.In many respects, the Cleveland police must be more scared than anyone else.
The Dallas massacre of five officers during a protest on July 7 is still top of
mind, and there is chronic strife between the local police force here and
African-Americans.The civility that followed Dallas between politicians, police and the rabid
commentariat on both sides, however, was just starting to ease tensions. Mr.
Trump cancelled his rallies and called for national unity. And just as a small,
collective healing began across the nation, Baton Rouge happened, turning
Cleveland into a makeshift national plebiscite on gun control.Within hours of the attack in Louisiana, the head of Cleveland’s largest
police union, Stephen Loomis, asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to temporarily
restrict the state’s open-carry gun laws during the Republican National
Convention.GOP CONVENTION PREVIEW: The Donald Trump Show“He could very easily do some kind of executive order or something – I don’t
care if it’s constitutional or not at this point,” Mr. Loomis told CNN. “They
can fight about it after the RNC or they can lift it after the RNC, but I want
him to absolutely outlaw open-carry in Cuyahoga County until this RNC is
over.”Ohio law permits licensed firearm owners to wear weapons in public. So a
Biker for Trump or Oath Keeper can legally stroll downtown or in the
convention’s “event zone” with any firearm or weapon that the state has not
banned, such as sabres or tennis balls.While Mr. Kasich has responded that he doesn’t have the constitutional power
to suspend the state or federal law, Mr. Loomis has threatened himself to turn
the law on its head. “We are going to be looking very, very hard at anyone who
has an open carry,” he said. “An AR-15, a shotgun, multiple handguns. It’s
irresponsible of those folks – especially right now – to be coming downtown with
open-carry [assault rifles] or anything else. I couldn’t care less if it’s legal
or not.”If all these frightening developments are redolent of the tension surrounding
the Democratic Party convention of 1968, that event didn’t have anyone as
unpredictable as Mr. Trump as circus master.Mr. Trump perhaps faces his greatest test this week, the graduation from
candidate to leader. Will he cool down this cauldron or shake it until it froths
over? Will he heal his party’s rifts or further alienate factions of the GOP?
Leading members of his own party are staying way away from the event, including
Governor Kasich. And it’s not because he doesn’t like Cleveland.

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