CLEVELAND (AP) — The four-day Republican convention drew to a close Thursday night with a total of only two dozen protest-related arrests, a relief to city officials and police who had braced for mass disruptions and violence during this summer of bloodshed.
The demonstrations that many feared would end in pitched battles between police and protesters turned at times into carnival-like scenes, with bongo players and with protesters dressed as nuns on stilts.
There were tense moments and some angry words as anarchists, anti-Muslim protesters and pro-capitalist groups filled the downtown Public Square, but most people seemed to get along.
State troopers from Indiana played ping pong with people in the square, three officers kicked around a soccer ball with children, and the city’s police chief joined demonstrators in a prayer circle one afternoon. A group offered free hugs in the early evening.
Late Thursday night, police put the number of arrests since Monday at 24, with 17 of those from a melee that erupted during a flag-burning by avowed revolutionaries. In the run-up to the convention, some law enforcement authorities had feared hundreds of arrests every day.
A massive police presence helped keep the protests largely under control, said Eric Ferrero, an Amnesty International deputy executive director who helped oversee teams of observers in Cleveland. About 500 Cleveland police and thousands of law enforcement officers from around the country were assigned to convention security.
“Our observers have been at some protests where there’s been more police than protesters,” Ferrero said. He said that for the most part, observers saw police conducting themselves properly.
Organizers of some of the rallies and marches also said fears of violence kept many people away. Most crowds numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands.
“We had big groups that said they were coming in that got dwindled down to nothing,” said Larry Bresler, organizer of a Stop Poverty Now rally. “They weren’t coming to Cleveland because the fear of violence.”
On Thursday evening, hundreds of demonstrators for and against Donald Trump gathered in Public Square, but the crowds soon melted away well before Trump’s prime-time acceptance speech.
The fears of bloodshed were stoked by the ambush killings of eight police officers earlier this month in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and by Ohio’s open-carry law, which allows gun owners to carry their weapons in plain sight.
Anxiety also grew after Trump claimed earlier this year that there would be riots in the streets of Cleveland if he amassed the required number of delegates and the GOP denied him the nomination.
A small number of people openly carried guns during some of the protests but caused no reported problems. By the end of the convention, those who entered the Public Square with weapons were mostly ignored.
The Cleveland department relied heavily on about 300 officers on bicycles to keep protesters in line and separate hostile groups before they came to blows, a tactic that seemed to work time and again.
Cleveland police were “outstanding” in protecting the America First Unity Rally on Monday and preventing anti-Trump protesters from crashing the event, said organizer Tim Selaty Sr. The rally drew about 400 people, far fewer than expected, he said.
Glenn Wilcoxson, of Clearwater, Florida, spent the week selling Trump shirts, hats and stickers in Cleveland.
“We didn’t know what to expect hearing everything on the news,” he said. “It was going to be massive riots and problems, but we got here and there have been very little problems. The police have done such a wonderful job, unbelievable.”
Associated Press writer Mark Gillispie in Cleveland, John Seewer in Toledo and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.