The streets are closed for blocks around. Businesses are shuttered. Workers stayed home, and buildings are essentially empty. A convention with high security plus a tropical storm will do that.
So there’s no one on the downtown streets but protesters, the news media and the omnipresent police in their new, crisp khakis. The protesters are vastly outnumbered by the men and women paid to keep a watch on them.
Republicans may deride federal spending as a rule, but it’s on vivid display this week in Tampa at the Republican National Convention. As with previous conventions in the post-9/11 era, this is considered a “National Special Security Event.” The federal government gave the City of Tampa a grant of $50 million for security measures.
The city used upward of $25 million to bring in some 3,000 law-enforcement officers, house them, clothe them and equip them, and then spent another $20 million for additional security equipment such as cameras, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Monday morning as he walked (very much on the inside) through the convention center.
“No money, no convention. We couldn’t have pulled it off. Neither could Charlotte,” where the Democrats convene next week, said Buckhorn, who, for the record, is a Democrat.
The striking result of the big spending is the sight of thousands of officers. Many ride new Safariland patrol bikes. They bristle with gear that appears to be right out of the box.
They’re prepared, it seems, to battle multiple battalions of anarchists. As of Monday afternoon, only a few noisy black-clad agitators had showed up.
There were many more conventional, peaceful protesters, from groups such as Earth First!, Code Pink and the Green Party. The Occupy Wall Street folks were on hand with their chants of “We are the 99 percent!” A couple of gray-haired ladies carried a sign reading “Raging Grannies.”
They gathered in light rain Monday morning at Perry Harvey Park, roughly a mile from the convention center, in a fairly desolate part of town next to a freeway. Organizers said 45 groups were represented, a remarkable array given that the crowd appeared to number only in the low hundreds.
First came speeches. The police took up positions on the outskirts. In the distance: more police. They would line the protest route all the way through downtown.
Robert D’Avanzo, 59, of Clearwater, Fla., was dismayed by the sight of the empty streets and the heavy police presence: “I find it repulsive that our own city has been taken from us by these people who have come in to hold their convention. We’ve got to take some of it back.”