- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2016

CLEVELAND — However history judges the Republican National Convention here this week, one thing is certain — 1968 it ain’t.

The anticipated collision of protest groups and police causing riots similar to the violent chaos that erupted on the streets outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago never materialized here. Instead, the demonstrations remained mostly peaceful with a heavy police presence keeping protesters in check.

But protest they did.

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Black Lives Matter and other protesters voicing opposition to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump staged a couple of marches and groups representing a variety of causes competed for attention in the city’s Public Square, which was the designated protest zone.

Amid the throng of protesters in the shadow of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on the square Thursday afternoon, a man wearing an Arab keffiyeh across his face hoisted a placard that read: “Ban all Trumps not Muslims.”

A woman from the anti-war group Code Pink who was wearing a lab coat and had a toy stethoscope hanging from her neck held a sign that read: “Our political system is sick!”

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The square was surrounded by police, including police on horseback and bicycles. A line of state troopers walking two abreast would periodically march through the square.

The most violent incident this week occurred when members of the Revolutionary Communist Party demonstrated in front of the gate to Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention is taking place. A man lit an American flag on fire and police said he also caught himself on fire and pushed a police officer attempting to help him.

The incident quickly escalated to a clash between the protesters and police, ending with the arrest of 18 people and injuries to two police officers, according to police.

Dick Simpson, political science professor at University of Illinois at Chicago who is an expert on the 1968 convention riots, said the policing practices in Cleveland are one factor that kept the protests from getting out of hand.

He said that in Chicago 48 years ago, harsh police tactics and use of the National Guard are what created a “war zone atmosphere.”

“One of the big difference is the police. They are using their bikes [to hold back crowds] and not attacking protesters with batons or using tear gas in large amounts,” said Mr. Simpson.

Another difference is the politics. In 1968, young Democrats were protesting the Democratic Party. This year, Democrats and liberal activists are protesting the Republicans.

The protesters also didn’t turn out in the large numbers that some expected. In 1968, about 5,000 protesters came to Chicago to demonstrate for integration, civil rights and against the Vietnam War. The activists in Cleveland ran the gamut of causes, but police, news reporters and onlookers outnumbers the protesters.

At times, the cacophony of competing voices at Public Square rendered them unintelligible.

On the other side of the square Thursday, five men standing side by side on a low courtyard wall trumpeted a religious message. “You can only be a real man if you’re Christian! You can only be a real man if you love God,” one of the men called out through a bullhorn.

They carried large signs that said “Every real Muslim is a racist” and “America: God hates your sin.”

Dancing to music blaring from a boom box, a conga line of Code Pink protests blocked the men. The women, dressed in pink and wearing pink Statue of Liberty-style crowns, waved heart-shaped signs over their heads. The signs carried handwritten slogans such “stop GOP war on women” and “stop policing women’s bodies” and “equal pay for women.”

“God hates wicked whores that support abortion,” yelled the man with the bullhorn.

Nearby, a man wearing a camo ball cap that said “Make America Great Again” took advantage of the state’s open-carry law. He had a bolt-action rifle slung across his back and a 9 mm piston holstered on his thigh.

“I’m down here promoting constitutional freedoms: freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms,” he told reporters.

Elizabeth McFadden, a 25-year-old social worker, said she came to Public Square just to see what was going on in her city.

“It’s crazy,” she said, as a line of police marched through the square. “The police presence is intimidating but they are keeping us safe — aren’t they?”

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