Police Utilize Soft Force Tactics At Cleveland Convention Protests

Jul 20, 2016
Originally published on July 20, 2016 6:56 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Outside of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, there is a pretty overwhelming police presence. But while there have been a few tense moments during protests, the protests have been mostly peaceful. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports that so far, the police strategy of soft force seems to be working.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: On Cleveland's Public Square, groups protesting immigration and Muslims are a few feet from those protesting police brutality.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Eleven million immigrants on the...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Let me ask you a question, sir. Let me ask you a question.

SIEGLER: Things are testy here. And police, some holding their bikes in front of them as barriers, begin to form two large human chains to separate the growing crowd of protesters.

PATRICK ORR: So you've got different organizations out here. You know, you don't want them clashing.

SIEGLER: Officers like Patrick Orr of the Georgia State Patrol stand stoic allowing the two sides to keep shouting at one another.

ORR: Yeah, there's awareness, of course. Evidently, there's some angry people. But there's nothing wrong with them voicing their opinion. That's a First Amendment right.

SIEGLER: Soon, the police overwhelm the square, closing it temporarily, which invites its own controversy, especially as a few officers wearing protective gear enter the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It's a militarized police state. Look at it.

SIEGLER: Anti-Trump protester Marni Halasa says so many police make the situation more tense.

MARNI HALASA: I think everybody's just a little, like, you know, a little nervous. So I think that's why they have this. But I think it's kind of unnecessary.

SIEGLER: Mel Brecknell, a bystander, now caught up in the middle of things, sees it differently.

MEL BRECKNELL: And when people criticize their presence and there are other guys walking around with loaded assault rifles, I am very, very grateful to these men and women who are standing here to keep us safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Excuse me, back up. Back up. Back up.

SIEGLER: The crowd disperses. But then these police are tested again when some protesters start marching down Euclid Avenue toward the convention blocking traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Move it.

SIEGLER: Dozens of cops jump on their bikes, some move to the front, others trailing the protesters. There are brief clashes between the marchers and pro-Trump supporters with police in the thick of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Move back. All you've got to do is move back.

SIEGLER: Now they're back off their bikes, hoisting them up as barriers in unison as they lunge forward into the crowd chanting.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Move back. Move back. Move back.

SIEGLER: It's remarkable to see. And Cleveland Police say using bikes as crowd control is a new strategy for them. Chief Calvin Williams says, so far, it's working.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHIEF CALVIN WILLIAMS: Nothing physical. We just wanted to make sure that we got in there before anything got out of hand.

SIEGLER: This overwhelming use of soft force, if you will, is a tactic that will likely be deployed and tested in the next two days. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.