National News

Cleveland full of police, not violent protests

Posted July 18
Updated July 19

Hundreds of officers, miles of fences separate protesters, convention
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— I’m in Cleveland as a journalist, here for the Republican National Convention.

The message about the convention in the news and in social media is: Be afraid. Very afraid.

And this was even before the Baton Rouge shootings.

There I sat at a friend’s kitchen table in Cleveland on Sunday morning reading the news and scanning social media, while feeling dread and a pit down deep in my belly.

I was scheduled to do a live interview with CNN on Sunday afternoon about my new book, WHITE HOUSE: CONFIDENTIAL, but the interview was canceled because of the breaking news from Baton Rouge.

My wife, Jody, and I had joked in the days before my departure from Raleigh that maybe I should take a bulletproof vest to Cleveland. We were kidding. Sort of.

But I guess there are others in newsrooms around the country who are not kidding about this.

Here are a couple of recent telling quotes from, for example, the LA Times:

"Journalists are bringing body armor."

And:

"Annie Yu is one of my talented young colleagues who is a social media producer for the Los Angeles Times. Her desk is right across from mine in the newsroom. I suppose I should have been surprised Tuesday afternoon when I saw her trying on a flak vest and helmet, but I wasn’t."

As I sat there at my friend’s kitchen table on Sunday morning, downtown Cleveland and the site of the Republican Convention were quickly morphing in my mind into a bleak apocalyptic place straight out of the Batman franchise.

“What am I doing here?” I asked myself. “Do I really have to go?”

Instead of rushing out the door to the convention site, I was dragging my feet. When I couldn’t avoid it any longer, I finally made my way downtown while wondering if it was smart to ignore the streaming-media broadcast of constant audible warnings in my head.

In my mind, I envisioned cops on edge so soon after the shootings in Baton Rouge. I imagined streets almost abandoned; with those venturing out at all rushing for their destinations and safety. Granted, I have an over-active imagination, but all those headlines and tweets certainly helped lead my mind to that dark place.

Was I foolishly putting myself in harm’s way by willingly heading into a “trainwreck-about-to-happen”?

Imagine my surprise. Downtown Cleveland looked a lot like downtown Raleigh on a Sunday afternoon. Friends, couples and families were strolling and eating lunch at outdoor cafes and loads of kids were playing in the parks and fountains. Yes, there were A LOT of cops, and lots of barriers and barricades and fences to control crowds. Police vehicles were everywhere. But many of the cops I saw were talking or laughing together while openly and cheerfully engaging with the public.

No one I saw looked threatened. Or threatening. Not exactly post-apocalyptic. More like your average weekend street festival on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.

I tried to find something around the convention site I could report on that would be shocking and sensational; something that would make for a great online headline. But the most shocking thing I saw was the $14 Caesar salad I ordered for lunch which had far too much iceberg lettuce and far too little broiled chicken.

So in spite of what you may be seeing and reading elsewhere online, I’d like to leave you with a positive image of Cleveland as I saw it today. I’d like to leave you with the image of a city which seems to be chock full of law enforcement officers who are preparing for very large crowds, but nothing in the behavior of any of the police I saw today indicated they were physically and emotionally preparing for the impending violence and chaos which some are predicting.

Of course, this is the day BEFORE the convention begins. Time will tell if the confidence I witnessed on Sunday is well placed.

Gregg Stebben is an editor at MEN’S HEALTH Magazine and the author of 17 books. His latest book is the third edition of WHITE HOUSE: CONFIDENTIAL. He lives in Raleigh.

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