Small crowd of protesters greet Republican convention

Detroit News staff and wire

Cleveland Several hundred Donald Trump supporters and opponents held rallies a half-mile apart as the four-day Republican National Convention opened Monday with tensions running high among police but were otherwise calm.

Despite expectations of raucous crowds of protesters railing against the nomination of New York businessman Donald Trump as the party’s nominee, the initial demonstrations were limited to sanctioned protest zones and police-escorted marches about a half-mile from Quicken Loans Arena.

Several hundred protesters marched in downtown Cleveland on Monday afternoon, skirted by bicycle-riding police officers as they carried signs and chanted slogans, including “Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Donald Trump go away.”

Media members appeared to rival protesters at the public square, where activists took turns using an official “speakers platform” to spread their message.

A few Trump backers openly carried guns as allowed under Ohio law, saying 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.”

Jesse Gonzales of Lakewood, Ohio, was surrounded by reporters as he walked near the public square openly carrying an “American-made AK” long rifle strapped across his back.

“It’s the Republican National Convention. Guns are a pretty Republican issue, aren’t they?” Gonzales said when asked why he carried the rifle. He wore a “Make America Great Again” hat and said he supported Trump for president.

“Is it any more or less inflammatory to have hundreds of cops walking around with rifles?” Gonzales said.

Tom Moran of Fenton and Bruce Fealk of Rochester Hills were among a small crowd gathered at an officially sanctioned protest site. They held up signs calling Trump a “loose cannon” and “danger” for America and said they were generally treated well by police and passersby.

“I got one F-U,” said Fealk, who will attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as a pledged delegate to Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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.

The anti-Trump demonstrators protested the businessman’s proposed illegal immigration proposals and 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.

Michigan State Police were patrolling sidewalks near the protest zone around noon Monday and were planning to provide assistance at an upcoming “parade” — the official name for sanctioned protest marches allowed near the convention center.

MSP sent 150 troopers and support personnel to Cleveland to help the city manage crowds and security. They were sworn in by the local police force on Sunday and have received a warm welcome in Cleveland, said Inspector James Shaw, noting many observers stopped troopers to shake their hands.

“I think we’re seeing that as a result of recent events nationally,” Shaw said, alluding to officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, amid tensions between police and some minority communities. “Our troopers realize each and every day the dangers they potentially could face, and I think they appreciate that.”

The major convention speakers slated for Monday evening include Melania Trump, wife of the candidate. Others scheduled to speak include some elected leaders such as Iowa U.S. Sen. Jodi Ernst and celebrities such as Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” and actor Scott Baio.

Detroit News reporter Jonathan Oosting contributed.