Opinions Abound in Cleveland's Public Square | NBC Chicago
Decision 2016

Decision 2016

Full coverage of the race for the White House

Opinions Abound in Cleveland's Public Square

“We have the Secret Service so don’t mess with us,” one delegate said

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Free speech was on display in Public Square just blocks from the Republican National Convention. The park became a gathering place where people amplified their cause. Here, members of Turning Point USA denounced big government. The founder said they are a nonpartisan group. (Published Wednesday, July 20, 2016)

    From civil conversations to flag-burning protests, Republican delegates and protesters alike gathered near Cleveland's Public Square on Wednesday afternoon to make their voices heard before the Republican National Convention resumed at nearby Quicken Loans Arena. 

    California delegates Trisha Bowler and Felicia Tweedy walked along 4th Street decked out in red, white and blue head gear, glasses and buttons. Bowler called the convention experience “fabulous.”

    “We have the Secret Service so don’t mess with us,” Bowler said.

    Security was tight throughout the city. Cleveland law enforcement, along with agencies from as far as California, worked the convention perimeter to ensure delegates, Clevelanders and visitors stay safe.

    "The police officers are very friendly,” said Tom West of Cleveland, who took the train downtown to enjoy a beer at the Tilted Kilt, a block from Public Square. “The barrier makes me feel safe. No car bombs can come through here. It’s a nice secure feeling.”

    Alternate delegate Mike Paolella of Illinois wrapped up his RNC convention experience as “some inspiring, some silly and some comedy.” The first-time attendee said he was looking forward to hearing Mike Pence speak and accept the vice presidential nomination Wednesday night.

    Scenes From the GOP Convention in ClevelandScenes From the GOP Convention in Cleveland

    In Public Square, hundreds of people gathered to amplify their cause, buy Trump t-shirts or enjoy the afternoon sun. Terry Kaye of Cleveland became the focal point of the gathering space as he stood holding a two-sided sign that read “Trump is the antichrist” and “The end is near thanks, GOP."

    Kaye, who described himself as not political, and not a Trump, Obama nor Hillary fan, said he felt compelled to come out to speak up and do something ridiculous. So he wore white attire and flashed a peace sign as people walked up to him to take pictures with him.

    “How preposterous, outrageous and unacceptable for the GOP to nominate a failed businessman and bad actor,” Kaye said.

    Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA of Lemont, Illinois, stood in the square with a megaphone chastising big government and socialism. He says he is neither pro Trump nor pro Hillary, but he got in a heated exchange with Daryle Lamont Jenkins from One Peoples Project of Philly about government's role.

    “There are more cops here per square inch than anywhere in America,” said Kirk. “Outside it’s much more peaceful than I expected. Police are allowing free speech to happen.”

    “When you hear something that just isn’t right, you have to say something to upstage them,” said Jenkins. “It’s a troll convention. Every single troll you are yelling at on the internet are here today."

    Just next to the disagreement between Kirk and Jenkins, Sarah Wellington of New York City quietly positioned an expansive installation of words in white type on black boards across the square reading, “We Will Not Be Silent."

    Crowds poured down Prospect Avenue near the Tilted Kilt to get a look at the commotion happening near a convention entrance. A flag burning and protest was halted by police on bicycles and horseback who pushed the crowd back. The protesters assumed a sitting position on the ground as police got it under control. Seventeen people were arrested - 15 on misdemeanor charges and two on felony charges for attacking a police officer.

    West said he enjoyed coming to the Tilted Kilt downtown with the out-of-towners, noting that GOP convention is a much smaller crowd than the Cavaliers victory parade, where more than one million people flooded the downtown streets.

    “I’d hate to jinx everything," West said, "but Cleveland is a peaceful town."