CLEVELAND — Iron gates 8 feet tall bolted together ring the Quicken Loans Arena, keeping anyone an array of police don’t want there a block or more away from the Republican National Convention.
Cleveland police, county highway patrol, the National Guard, the Secret Service and comrades in arms from as far away as the West Virginia State Police have descended on the city in pairs and small groups, along with thousands of Republicans, demonstrators, counter-demonstrators, political junkies, trouble makers and the media.
But on the eve of Donald Trump’s nominating convention, bars and restaurants were packed, and vendors were selling Trump bobblehead dolls, T-shirts and even Trump yarmulkes.
It was like a Saturday night in a hip-ish neighborhood, with lots of friendly smiles despite fears of a convention turning violent like the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“Make America great, the Jewish way!” hawked Marc Daniels of Marc’s Jubilee. He was selling yarmulkes with Trump, Hillary Clinton, John Kasich and Bernie Sanders emblazoned across them.
“I want 100,000 Muslims, Jews and Christians to meet in Central Park to weed out hate,” said the entrepreneurial activist from Springfield, Illinois. He has been selling his religious-political wares at several spots nationwide along the presidential campaign trail.
“When Donald Trump says ‘Make America Great Again,’ my question is when was this time period?” said Christopher Garrett, 31, of Cleveland. The African-American who works for a local shipping company paused for an interview while doing street commentary through his phone and Facebook Live Sunday night.
“You give me a time, a specific range, when America was so great, because I don’t seem to be able to recall it. I’m pretty smart, and I pay attention to history, but I can’t think of this fairy tale magical moment when America was so great.”
He was then interrupted on Facebook Live by a critical comment saying he should be talking about the pro-police movement, Blue Lives Matter, rather than just the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a red-hot issue that will be at the center of many of the protests and counterprotests in Cleveland beginning Monday.
“Let me just tell you something about this Blue Lives Matter,” Garrett told his critics through his phone. “Blue is not a life. Blue is a uniform that can be taken off. . . . Try being black, and being black 24-7, 365 days a year. You can take the blue uniform off and mix in with everyone else and no one would know you are police.”