- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2016

CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention kicks off Monday amid an atmosphere of heightened tensions, with last week’s terror attack in France and the weekend slaying of three police officers in Louisiana fresh on the minds of delegates gathering in Cleveland.

Donald Trump, who will officially claim the GOP’s presidential nomination Thursday, had already dedicated the convention’s first night to arguing he can restore a feeling of safety. Republicans said the turmoil of recent weeks — both terrorist-inspired attacks here and abroad, and heightened tensions between police and racial minorities — undercut the leadership of this White House.

“How many law enforcement people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country?” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter posting Sunday afternoon, amid reports that three Baton Rouge police officers were killed. “We demand law and order.”

In Cleveland, security was already stiff ahead of the convention, with thousands of local police and federal agents on the roads and controlling intersections.

Checkpoints and security fencing have gone up around the downtown locations hosting the convention, the press and some of the delegates’ hotels, and police patrolled in cars, on foot and on horseback.

“We’ve placed barriers or barricades at certain key streets and intersections around the downtown neighborhood just to make sure that things like what transpired in Nice are thwarted here in Cleveland if they’re attempted, or at least mitigated,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “So, you know, things that happen around the country and around the world do affect, to some degree, how we respond here in Cleveland.”

On the roads into Cleveland, billboards and electronic message boards urged vigilance and promoted an RNC hotline for reporting tips of suspicious behavior.

Both the truck attack in France last week and Sunday’s shooting of six officers in Baton Rouge — three of them fatally — by a lone assailant were on the minds of politicians and security pros in Cleveland.

The national debate over guns has spilled over here, too. The head of the largest police union in Cleveland sent a letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich urging the Republican to issue an executive order suspending the state’s open carry laws in specific areas close to the convention.

“While we are strong supporters of an individual’s right to bear arms, having individuals carrying firearms through the downtown area of Cleveland where passionate protesters from all parts of the world are converging only increases the potential for violence,” Stephen Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said in a letter to Mr. Kasich.

A spokesperson for Mr. Kasich said the governor does not have the power to “to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws as suggested.”

Jeff Larson, CEO for the convention, told reporters that law enforcement officials have been readying their security plans for nine months and are prepared to handle issues that arise from the state’s open carry laws.

“The open carry laws in Ohio haven’t changed recently,” Mr. Larson said. “It has been in effect for quite some time. They have had a number of big events that have taken place with open carry without any issues.

“I feel good about the security plan,” Mr. Larson said. “There are a lot of people coming here to execute their First Amendment rights, and we are going to be supportive of that. This is the United States of America, and people get a chance to do that in an orderly fashion, and when they start getting disorderly, I think the police will move in.”

Mr. Trump’s outsize rhetoric is expected to draw sizable protests. But it’s also a message that won him the Republican presidential nomination despite never having held public office, and convention officials said they’ll highlight it throughout the four days of speeches.

Monday’s convention theme is “Make America Safe Again,” and slated to speak are victims of illegal immigrant criminals, former troops who fought to defend the U.S. outpost in Benghazi in 2012 and Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin — a Democrat and vehement supporter of Second Amendment rights.

Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said the night should speak to Americans following Sunday’s shooting in Louisiana.

“It will deal with both the crises the country is suffering on internationally as well as the crises that the country is suffering on — like we saw today — in Baton Rouge,” Mr. Manafort said.

Late Sunday afternoon, President Obama spoke from the White House, pleading with the country to heal its divisions. “Only we can prove that we have the grace and the character and the common humanity to end this kind of senseless violence, to reduce fear and mistrust within the American family, to set an example for our children,” he said.

For her part, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said the shooting of police was “an assault on all of us.”

“We must not turn our backs on each other. We must not be indifferent to each other. We must all stand together to reject violence and strengthen our communities,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Trump, however, dismissed the Democrats’ talk, saying in a Tweet that the president “doesn’t have a clue.”

“Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!” he said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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