CLEVELAND » Several hundred Donald Trump supporters and opponents held rallies a half-mile apart as the four-day Republican National Convention opened today with tensions running high among police in this summer of violence.
A few Trump backers openly carried guns as allowed under Ohio law.
While there was a large police presence downtown and near the convention site around midday, just a few dozen officers on bikes stood watch during the pro-Trump rally along the Cuyahoga River.
Trump backers who brought guns said they simply wanted to exercise their rights.
“You don’t see Trump supporters doing anything that is extreme,” said Josh Clark, of Erie, Pennsylvania. “It’s more of a peaceful get-together.”
Joel Ameigh, of Hershey, Pennsylvania, who had a Smith and Wesson handgun strapped to his belt, said he is not necessarily a Trump backer but wanted to hear from the speakers at the “America First” rally sponsored by Citizens for Trump.
“We’re not here to be dangerous people. We’re not here to intimidate anyone. There are laws against that sort of thing,” he said.
The ambush killings of police officers earlier this month in Dallas and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over the weekend have heightened fears in Cleveland, with the president of the police union asking Ohio Gov. John Kasich to suspend the law allowing gun owners to carry firearms in plain sight. But Kasich said he doesn’t have that authority.
Separately, several hundred people chanted “Dump Trump now” while marching to another rally. Many demonstrators were upset with the Republican presidential candidate’s stand against illegal immigration.
“The people that are supporting him don’t see the real issue,” said Leonel Mejia, a Mexican immigrant who is in the country illegally and has lived in Minnesota since 2002.
“The African-American community, the Latino community and the Native American community are facing the same issues,” he said. “They’re facing economic issues. The people that support Trump are the poorer citizens of the United States. It’s a matter of class, not a matter of race.”
The demonstrators also used the event to protest what they called racist police practices. Several held signs calling for disarming the police, and at one point the crowd broke into a “black lives matter” chant.
Officers on bicycles and Indiana state troopers on convention security duty stood off to the side while a black speaker complained about police mistreatment.
Associated Press writer Mike Sisak contributed to this report.