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Protesters Descend On Cleveland For Republican National Convention


Police in Cleveland are on high alert. Thousands of protesters are there this week for the Republican National Convention. And the recent attacks on police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas have worried Cleveland authorities about potential violence there.

NPR's Nathan Rott is in Cleveland, and he's with us now. Hey there, Nate.


MCEVERS: So tell us where you are and what it's like.

ROTT: Yeah, so I am right now at the Cleveland Public Square. It's in the heart of Downtown, just a few blocks away from where the convention is taking place. And honestly, it's pretty tame. There's a few hundred people here milling about - pro-Trump demonstrators, anti-Trump demonstrators, people that are demonstrating for various social causes.

And, yeah, people have been pretty respectful and peaceful for the most part. A little earlier, we were at what was expected to be one of the bigger rallies here. Five thousand people were expected at this event that was hosted by America First. And that was a pro-Trump group that had Truckers for Trump, Christians for Trump, Bikers for Trump.

And honestly, being there, there wasn't more than maybe 500 people at the peak. And I should say there was probably about 300 law enforcement people there as well.

MCEVERS: Wow, so talk about this heavy police presence then. I mean, what's the mood like for them given what's happened in recent days and weeks?

ROTT: Yeah, it's a little tricky because you try to talk to some of the police officers here and they're really happy to talk off the record. They're not so happy to talk on the record. I think people - from an official standpoint, if you hear from the mayor's office and the police chief, they're pretty confident that they're ready to take on whatever comes in the next couple of days in the week.

If you talk to some of the rank-and-file officers, though, I think people are a little more worried. We talked to a couple of state troopers from Indiana earlier. There's 500 Cleveland police officers here and 2,000 other nonfederal state officers that have been shipped in, basically, to help with the demonstrations that might happen here. And this Indiana state trooper that I was talking to said that he was worried given everything that's happened in Baton Rouge and in Dallas. He did say that, you know, as a police officer, you're always a little worried that something might not go the way you expect.


ROTT: But just given all of the rhetoric and all of the people, I mean, there's tens of thousands of people that are coming to Cleveland to demonstrate here. And so it's not hard to believe that something might happen or a spark could start something that (laughter) could turn out to be awful.

MCEVERS: There's also been a lot of talk about Ohio's open-carry law. Have you seen people carrying firearms at these protests?

ROTT: Yeah, we have. Not as many people, I think, as was expected. Earlier here at the Public Square, we saw a guy that had an AR-15 strapped to his back. He did say that it wasn't loaded. He had no ammunition. And, you know, he said that he even was expecting more people to be carrying (laughter) firearms here.

The Ohio state laws allow for open carry of handguns, rifles, I mean, you name it. And that's been a pretty contentious thing. And that's probably why there's been so much talk about it because given everything that's happened with violence against police in recent days, the union chief for the Cleveland police here actually asked the governor's office to put a temporary ban on this open-carry law in Ohio.

John Kasich, the Ohio governor, quickly shut that down and said that governors don't have the ability to do that. So...

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Nathan Rott in Cleveland. Thanks a lot.

ROTT: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.

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