Cleveland will be ready should Donald Trump’s prediction come true of riots at the Republican National Convention if he’s denied the presidential nomination, security officials say.
Though the Ohio city won’t say whether Trump’s remarks have it reconsidering security for the July 18-21 gathering, preparations for possible unrest are well under way. The convention is designated a national special-security event, like Pope Francis’s visit last year and the Democrats’ nominating meeting in Philadelphia in July.
“It’s going to be a secure event,” said Kevin Dye, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service, the lead agency coordinating with federal, state and local law enforcement.
Trump, the billionaire New York developer whose popularity soared after he attacked Mexicans and Muslims, faces the prospect of a convention floor fight if he’s leading in delegates but falls short of a majority. Trump said Wednesday on CNN that he thinks “you’d have riots” if the party denies him the nomination despite a large lead in delegates.
His North Carolina rallies this month drew protesters who at first blended into the crowd, then confronted supporters with signs urging them to reject hatred. He canceled a Chicago appearance last week when confrontations erupted.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who hopes to win the nomination in a contested convention with Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, called Trump’s language about the event “unacceptable” in a Twitter message Thursday.
“This implicit acceptance of violence is the kind of rhetoric that’s pulling people apart,” Kasich tweeted.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, a Kasich supporter, said a plan is in place for demonstrations or unrest like those that have marred other conventions. He said Trump can’t bully his way to the nomination.
“That process isn’t going to be influenced by people who are threatening physical violence if the outcome doesn’t go the way they want it to go,” he said.
Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said on CNN that Trump was “speaking figuratively” about riots and he expects “a very orderly process.” Kirsten Kukowski, communications director for the convention, said participants “will have a safe and productive” event.
“The democratic process is playing out across the country and if no one candidate reaches a majority of the delegates, there will be an open and transparent process in Cleveland,” she said by e-mail.
Still, City Councilman Anthony Brancatelli, a Democrat, said he found Trump’s remarks disconcerting.
“It is very frustrating to hear that kind of rhetoric, and it certainly raises concerns for us,” Brancatelli said by telephone. “He has every opportunity to keep folks under control.”
Like many North American cities in the 1960s, Cleveland was the scene of violence touched off by racial tension. The convention’s July 18 opening coincides with the 50th anniversary start of the Hough riots, six days of clashes that led to four deaths and more than 240 fires.
The city was the site of protests last year over issues including the 2014 death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy fatally shot by a white police officer as he held a toy gun. Police policies and training now are subject to an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, after a federal review found that some officers violated constitutional rights and used deadly force excessively.
Both parties’ conventions are eligible for $50 million in federal spending for event safety. The news website Cleveland.com reported that the city’s police will call on suburban forces to boost staffing to about 5,000.
“The question is not whether $50 million is enough money, but why Donald Trump is using his platform to condone violence — even after we have seen the clear and dangerous consequences of such divisive rhetoric,” U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said in an e-mailed statement. “
City officials on March 9 opened bidding for the purchase of 2,000 sets of riot-control gear, including batons, upper-body and arm protectors, shin guards and reinforced gloves.
Police Sergeant Jennifer Ciaccia referred questions about security plans to Dan Williams, a spokesman for Mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat. Williams declined to comment.