The State of Cleveland's RNC Security State

Protest zones, weaponry, federally-funded riot gear, miles of fencing...democracy in action!


Bring tha noise
Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons

The 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) kicks off in Cleveland today, and with it, an unprecedented level of security provided by the first city ever to host a major political convention while operating under a federal consent decree because of systemic police misconduct. Everyone from local authorities to journalists to protesters are on edge and preparing for the worst—perhaps even worse than Donald Trump's nomination acceptance speech.

500 members of Cleveland's police force and 2,500 officers from nearby towns, in conjunction with the Secret Service, will be responsible for maintaining the safety and security of both the natives and the 50,000 out-of-towners who are expected to descend on the city, including delegates, media, and a whole lot of protesters. But you, the taxpayer, will be paying for that security in the form of a $50 million federal grant. (An equal grant will be spent by law enforcement in Philadelphia next week for the Democratic National Convention.) However, with the security budget becoming ever-more-stretched, Ohio residents recently got a $4 million bonus to their share of the RNC security tax burden.

The history of violence committed by both Trump supporters and opponents at the candidate's rallies over the past year—to say nothing of the spasms of violence and terrorism in various parts of the country (and beyond) over the past few weeks—has added a sharper edge to what was already expected to be a tense four days in northeastern Ohio.

For a while, a contested convention seemed possible, which caused Trump to speculate that "riots" could be possible in such an event. Now that the Republican Party appears to be begrudgingly falling into line behind Trump, such palace intrigue seems unlikely, but the cost of that uneasy peace is that Trump is the legitimate nominee of one of the two major parties in the U.S.

Regardless of what happens with the dog-and-pony show inside Quicken Loans Arena, there will be action outside.

To prepare for that, Cleveland has reportedly purchased over three miles of "Blockader" steel barricades, plus over 3,000 feet worth of six foot-high barricades, over 2,000 sets of riot gear, and 10,000 sets of plastic handcuffs.

Almost half of downtown Cleveland, roughly 1.7 square miles, will be under major restrictions as the designated "event zone." Within that area, according to the New York Times, everything from glass bottles and tennis balls to "large bags and backpacks, mace, loudspeakers, tents, coolers and canned goods" will be prohibited. The Washington Post notes that it has provided a "standard kit" to its staff attending the RNC, including "helmets, gas masks and flak jackets," but gas masks are among the items banned from the event zone.

Because Ohio is an "open carry" state, guns will be permitted in the event zone, but banned from smaller "secure zones," such as the arena, which will be controlled by the Secret Service. The Cleveland PD's union president Steve Loomis told CNN he is planning to ask Ohio Gov. John Kasich to "absolutely outlaw open-carry in Cuyahoga County until this RNC is over." Kasich responded, "Ohio governors do not have the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws as suggested," according to CNN. 

Cleveland's hospitals will be "siege-proof," according to New York Magazine:

Cleveland's hospitals are barring their trauma surgeons from vacationing next week, setting up incident command centers to centralize decision-making in the event of an emergency, and stockpiling enough equipment to survive 96 hours without re-supply, just in case large portions of the city fall under siege.

While protesting, the Marshall Project recommends not talking back to police lest you be slapped with a "disorderly conduct" or "obstructing official business" charge, and being mindful of posting anything that could incite trouble on the internet, as Cleveland criminalized "improper use of social media" in 2011. 

Reacting to the violence visited upon police and demonstrators at a protest in Dallas earlier this month, some protesters have said they will avoid the designated "protest zone" set up by the Secret Service, and instead maintain a presence at their rally location nearby. And if the prospect of being targeted by lone wolf psychopath snipers wasn't terrifying enough, reports that the FBI has been knocking on local activists' doors, a coordinated action the bureau has described as "community outreach" but which one community organizer said "still implies that there could be consequences there."

The quadrennial political conventions are always "hot-button" events and the specter of 1968's unrest has long loomed over this electoral season. And while every four years we're told "this is the most polarized America has ever been," the temperature sure feels higher on the eve of the RNC, and it can't be solely placed at the feet of Donald Trump's awful, ignorant, incoherent rhetoric. Issues such as police violence, racism, and a populist anger at the American political and financial establishments have been brewing for years. 2016 just happens to be the year they all seemed to boil over.

We can only hope that the security state currently enveloping Cleveland runs effectively and isn't all so much pointless security theater or worse, an excuse to deploy the brute force of state power in the name of "security."

Reason and Reason TV will be reporting from Cleveland throughout the RNC.