AFP Cleveland,United States
Jul 19, 2016, 04.45 AM
The throngs of fired-up, potentially violent protesters expected to flood Cleveland on the sidelines on the Republican National Convention failed to materialise as the confab got underway on Monday.
Events were low key and peaceful, taking place in an atmosphere that resembled a carnival more than a political hotbed, in spite of the passions aroused by the Donald Trump's controversial White House bid.
Officials said the two main protests drew approximately 500 people combined. Organisers had expected to draw thousands to just one of those protests, but security concerns may have played a role in depressing turnout.
"One of the things that we were hearing from all kinds of people was that they were so scared about... the forecasting of violence, that people were saying I'm not going to get anywhere near downtown during the week of the Republican convention," said Larry Bresler, the organizer of an anti-poverty march and rally.
After recent high-profile incidents of gun violence in the United States, law enforcement was out in force. Officers were on loan from departments throughout the country.
Patches on patrolling officers uniforms identified them as members of departments from as far away as California.
There had been concerns of potential clashes between Trump supporters and opponents, and of racially-tinged unrest.
But on Monday, commerce appeared to win over politics. Street vendors could be seen selling Trump paraphernalia; whether they agreed with the presumptive Republican nominee's positions was beside the point.
"Are you a Trump supporter?" asked one vendor to a passing bicyclist.
"No, are you?" came the bicyclist reply.
"No," was the vendor's chuckled response, as the bicyclist rode on.
Street vendor Eric Yesbick, who said he was a comedian back in his home state of Georgia, came solely for the commercial opportunity. He was selling novelty condoms with Trump's image on the packaging.
"Everyone sells posters, bumper stickers, hats, T-shirts, buttons. I'm the only person that sells political condoms," Yesbick boasted of his dubious venture.
While much of the street scene around Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, the site of the convention, was light-hearted, there was one moment that highlighted security forces' heightened state of alert.
When six people dressed in black, with their faces covered with bandannas or masks, appeared about two blocks from the arena, dozens of bicycled police rushed to detain them.
The six said they were part of Anonymous, the online network of activists and hackers. None were arrested, but police said they confiscated several items from the group: gas masks, a small knife and a slingshot.
There was one arrest in an unrelated incident, according to police.
More protests are planned throughout the week of the convention.
On Wednesday, a group of Latino activists planned to showcase a wall of banners in opposition to Trump's call to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
And on Thursday, the day Trump is expected to officially receive the Republican Party's nomination, Cleveland-area physicians are planning a protest in opposition to the presumptive nominee.