Flag burning threatens to fuel tensions outside convention

CLEVELAND (AP) — A threatened flag burning Wednesday and a wall-building stunt mocking Donald Trump’s Mexican border plan have potential to fuel already bubbling tensions outside the Republican National Convention.

Several protests Tuesday erupted into skirmishes and marchers tried to push their way into blocked off downtown streets. Officers used bicycles to wall-off intersections and for the first time during the convention ordered demonstrators to disperse under the threat of arrest.

“We don’t care who it is. Stay on the sidewalk,” Lt. Michael Butler said as the demonstrators made their way. “We don’t want the sideshow.”

The convention is a magnet for people supporting and denouncing disparate causes, from policing to immigration.

On Wednesday, anti-government and anti-racism protesters are set to burn an American flag at an undisclosed location. A Latino social justice organization is holding an exercise on the city’s Public Square to “wall off” what they see as Trump’s hateful rhetoric.

Other protests are also planned.

Despite Tuesday’s histrionics, police said there were no protest-related arrests.

One skirmish broke out when right-wing conspiracy theorist and radio show host Alex Jones started speaking through a bullhorn. Police on bicycles pushed back a surging crowd, and Jones was whisked away.

Minutes later, more officers on bicycles formed a line to separate a conservative religious group from a communist-leaning organization carrying a sign that read, “America Was Never Great.”

Overall, five people have been arrested since the convention started, police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia said.

That includes one person accused of trying to steal a state trooper’s gas mask and three people who allegedly climbed flagpoles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and hung an anti-Donald Trump banner.

The demonstrators on Tuesday — including anti-Muslim protesters, religious conservatives and marchers decrying racism and “murder by police” — appeared outnumbered by law enforcement officers and members of the media.

Demonstrators soon spilled into the streets, and some appeared to be making their way toward the convention arena before turning back. More skirmishes broke out at one intersection. But by the evening, the protests were breaking up.

About 300 officers from more than a dozen law enforcement agencies are patrolling downtown Cleveland on bicycles during the convention.

A contingent of bicycle officers made a coordinated effort to keep about 20 marchers from advancing, lifting their bicycles and charging forward a few feet at a time as they yelled, “move back!”

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams waded into crowds of demonstrators during the day, warning one group, “It’s an unlawful gathering. You’re blocking a city street.”

They eventually moved along.