CLEVELAND – The street medic asks if I want to see something funny. He pulls out a piece of paper and unfolds it. Here is a map of the United States, with X’s drawn through a number of different states. “It’s cop bingo,” he says. You make a mark corresponding to the different badges on all the cops you see walking around.
Like the delegates, media and activists, the police at the RNC come from all over the country. They are fed, housed and paid extra for overtime. Cops on horseback wearing cowboy hats from Fort Worth. Khaki-clad Florida Highway Patrol. Bicycle cops wearing blue from Akron, Ohio. Police dressed in black from the Department of Homeland Security wearing what looks to be at least 30 pounds of gear.
NO PLATFORM asked the Cleveland Police Department Public Information Office the following questions:
Which states were police hired from to work at the RNC, and how many police officers from Homeland Security are present?
How many police are on the streets for RNC?
How much does it cost to have a police helicopter in the air, per hour?
I know you cannot give me an exact number, but roughly how many police (in the dozens? scores? hundreds?) were assigned to infiltrate protest groups/work undercover?
The Cleveland Police Department declined to answer the above questions, though they said: “We have engaged hundreds of agencies and thousands of officers from as far west as California and as far south east as Florida.”
They also decline to confirm or deny reports that some police are even volunteering to work at the convention.
NO PLATFORM saw uniformed police from: Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Texas, Ohio (three locations outside of Cleveland), Missouri, California, Secret Service and police from the Department of Homeland Security. Journalists and activists told NO PLATFORM they also saw police from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Mississippi, Michigan, Virginia and West Virginia. Police NO PLATFORM spoke with said there were also cops from Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Kansas and New Jersey.
Official sources say there are approximately 5,500 cops working the RNC in Cleveland, including 3,000 federal officers and 2,000 cops from out of state. 3.7 miles of steel security fencing. 10,000 plastic handcuffs.
On Prospect Avenue, Ademo, an activist from Cop Block, a group that monitors police activity, has the contents of his backpack dumped on the sidewalk. Ademo tells me the cops said backpacks weren’t allowed in the area and that he could get his back from the police headquarters on Monday.There are no signs advising that backpacks are not allowed in the area. Several people pass us wearing backpacks, including a blonde woman riding a bicycle. I witness three street medics being searched in Public Square. Ademo has to carry his belongings in his arms now – the police confiscate nothing but his backpack.
At times, it seems there are several cops present for each protester. The police seem bored or restless. Any small group of three of more protesters draws a crowd of police on foot or bicycle. Police tail groups of street medics and legal observers simply walking down the sidewalk.
The police are stalking a group of activists from different traditions near Public Square, so the activists decide “to take the cops on a walk”. They start marching. They play games for about two miles, ducking corners, vaulting over barricades and vanishing into parking garages. There is a stand-off on Lakeside Avenue and then the police kettle them past the FBI office on 18th street.
Two black teenagers get caught up in the chase. As police kettle-off blocks, they find themselves stuck behind lines of cops on bicycles refusing to let anyone through. One of them approaches a metal barricade and leans on it. Five cops converge on him from the other side. One of them puts on gloves. “You gotta get five guys on me?” the teen asks.
“Don’t need five, buddy. They just need me,” says one of them, folding his arms. They tell him not to lean on the barricade. This is private property.
The teen says he wants to catch the bus. He goes to try and reason with the kettle at the intersection of 9th and Lakeside. Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams seizes the opportunity for the cameras, breaking through a line of bicycle cops, putting his arm around the young man, and walking him down Lakeside Avenue towards the bus stop. The cameras snap away, and after about half a block he abandons the teen along with the journalists, returning towards the kettle perimeter.
The young man stands in the middle of the street. “Hey, where’d he go?”
Some people are inadvertently caught up in the kettle. People wearing “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hats sit on ledges and look at their hands, not speaking with anyone else. A balding, white middle-aged man in khaki shorts and blue button-down shirt stands with his arm entwined with a blonde woman in high heels. As the kettle is pushed past the FBI offices, he walks with his hand on her back, both of them silent.
After hours of these games, there are no arrests made.
I’m having lunch at a local restaurant a little ways from downtown and four men in various states of dress come in, swearing loudly. They take a seat behind me. I ask the waitress how business is. She admits it’s not good. They are open for the first time past their usual closing hours in the mid-afternoon, but it’s been slow. At least law enforcement is still showing up, she says, gesturing to the men sitting behind me. The table falls silent and they speak in hushed tones for the rest of their meal. When leaving, they clap the owner on the back. He tells me they are Cleveland’s finest, working undercover for the protests.
Local businesses tell NO PLATFORM they are working on extended hours. One barista at a coffee shop says that they usually close at 6pm, that the city is generally a “ghost town”. You wouldn’t know it by the number of delegates and media on the street. East 4th Street between Euclid and Prospect Avenues is full of people sitting at cafes and vendors hawking RNC memorabilia.
On Prospect Avenue, where Ademo had his backpack seized, a line of buildings is empty, windows boarded up or broken. The first floor is lined with a colorful banner pointing people towards the cafes on East 4th, just a block away.
Some International Workers of the World activists, who are well-represented outside the convention and I hear in the Rust Belt more generally nowadays, tell me they suspect most of the money the city spent on the RNC went to the police and beautifying downtown Cleveland.
“Cleveland is trying to turn itself into a city where people can come and vacation, come and visit. They want to hold conventions here, and not focus on things like transportation that is necessary for a city like that. And other things that would benefit the working class. Instead, they’re focusing on beautification that is negatively impacting the working class that lives here,” says Robert.
Stephanie, a young aspiring photojournalist tagging along with the Wobblies, agrees. “Once again, just seeing wealthy developments in our city that are only benefiting wealthy people, not benefiting people who live here, not benefiting people who are part of the working class, who struggle with poverty in Cleveland. Such a huge majority is constantly being negatively affected by this development and beautification that are being used to attract, once again, people who don’t live here.”
“They don’t see the way people in East Cleveland live. They don’t see the injustices that any of those people have to go through. Especially with poverty-stricken neighborhoods, living in these neighborhoods that are just horribly ridden with crime that they can’t escape from, simply because they’re not part of those wealthier classes.”
The city of Cleveland received $50 million from the Federal Government for security costs at the Republican National Convention.
This month, the city posted a request for bids on a spectrum of riot gear: 2,000 sets of riot-control suits and 26-inch batons, three miles of steel bike-rack-style barriers, 25 sets of tactical armor, 300 patrol bicycles and 310 sets of bicycle riot control gear, among other equipment needs. (The police department does not currently have a bicycle unit; nor does it have a training program for such.) The bid package dwarfs similar requests from cities that hosted national conventions in recent history. – From Cleveland Scene
The Cleveland Police Department tells NO PLATFORM that only 23 arrests were made by Thursday, the last day of the convention. Of those, 17 arrests came from a flag burning protest held by the Revolutionary Communist Party late on Wednesday.
Of a $50m security grant, the cost by Thursday morning comes to $2,173,913.04 per arrest.