When police arrived, about two dozen officers pedaling slowly on bikes, the demonstrators clapped respectfully.
“This is crazy. This is fantastic. Wow, if there was ever a time to do it!” exulted Joy Roller, who had helped organize the Circle the City With Love demonstration on the eve of the Republican National Convention.
The love-and-peace people have their work cut out for them. Rarely has a national convention incited so many jitters. There has been widespread speculation about possible clashes between supporters and opponents of Donald Trump. A major skirmish could occur Monday when pro-Trump demonstrators hold a midday rally.
And the convention comes in the middle of an extraordinarily violent summer that has seen police shootings, huge protest marches, the Dallas police ambush, as well as attacks in Orlando and Nice, France. More horrific news came Sunday morning, with reports of multiple police officers shot and killed in Baton Rouge.
“There’s an awful lot of fear out there,” said Jim Wilson, a retired law professor who participated in the bridge demonstration. "The last thing poor Cleveland needs right now is to become Chicago '68."
But even as local hospitals open up extra bed space in case of mass casualties, and battalions of police officers on bikes prepare to swarm around the protest areas, the city leaders here and many of the residents are determined to put a bright, sunny, Midwest Nice face on this week’s GOP gathering.
“We are friendly. This is a good place to be. And we want people to come back,” the mayor’s media relations director, Daniel Williams, said Sunday on a bright morning with chamber of commerce weather. “This is a Midwest city with a Southern hospitality.”
On Sunday there was no mistaking that a huge political wave was crashing upon this city. Many of the billboards have political messages, including one, from a group opposing homophobia, that features an artist’s rendering of Donald Trump about to engage in a lip lock with Sen. Ted Cruz.
An airplane circled the skies above Cleveland pulling a banner that said: “Hillary For Prison 2016.”
"Don't Trust the Liberal Media" an electronic billboard warned.
Jersey barriers, tall fencing and police checkpoints abound. There are multiple security zones. The delegates will assemble in the Quicken Loans Arena — known locally as “the Q” — while 15,000 media people will work two-thirds of a mile away at the convention center.
This is the first Republican convention here since 1936. You don’t have to Google that bit of information, because a huge banner draped on the side of a building on Euclid Avenue mentions it. There are also signs with fun facts about Cleveland, such as:
“In 1924, Cleveland became home to Hector Boiardi’s first restaurant. Today, you can find his famous sauce under the name Chef Boyardee.”
And: “The first major rock + roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball, was in Cleveland in 1952.”
The city caught friendly weather this weekend after a Saturday morning rainstorm. The air cleared. The sun, as red as a panic button, set over Lake Erie on Saturday evening as temperatures mellowed into the 60s. The visitor might think: What’s not to like about Cleveland?!
The greeters are everywhere, many of them volunteers, wearing white shirts and red caps. Travelers getting off their planes will immediately encounter people handing out maps and city guides.
“We the People Welcome You to Cleveland” declare the lamppost banners hung all over the city.
How many people will see those welcome banners is unclear. The city has said it expects 50,000 people. But some major corporate sponsors have pulled out. A number or prominent Republicans — and not just the ones from the Bush family — are skipping the convention, which will nominate the anti-establishment real estate tycoon from New York.
The Cleveland police, bolstered with federal dollars for security, bought 300 bikes and trained officers how to do their jobs on two wheels.
Although the Hope Memorial Bridge event was by far the largest demonstration of the day, the one that drew the most intense police presence began a few hours later, when several hundred protesters, from diverse organizations, marched into downtown.
Many were protesting racism and calling for indictments of police who have shot unarmed African Americans. Two protestors carried a papier-mâché pig with a Trump-like mop of hair atop a mock silver platter garnished with dollar bills.
"There is a broad base here because everyone realizes we need to come together to stop Donald Trump," said Bryan Hambley, 31, a doctor who organizes doctors and nurses to oppose the presumptive GOP nominee.
The protest remained peaceful and everyone dispersed as the police slowly advanced, on horseback, bicycles and on foot, and cleared the streets in advance of a large convention welcoming party on the lakefront.
The state has an open-carry law that permits people to walk around with loaded handguns or long guns. There was no sign anyone brought firearms to the first protest march, held Saturday, but by Sunday a man with a long rifle slung over his shoulder attracted a cluster of cameras and curious onlookers.
“We’re not going to impede their Second Amendment rights,” Police Chief Calvin D. Williams said at a mid-morning news conference. But he said people have a legal responsibility not to menace anyone with those weapons — or be perceived as being menacing. After the news conference, he said in an interview that his officers have been trained to approach anyone carrying a gun openly and explain the law to them.
“We keep an eye on them. If we think they’re an issue, we kind of stay with them. If we don’t think they’re an issue, they go about their business,” Williams told The Washington Post.
After the Baton Rouge shooting, police union president Steve Loomis called for Ohio's governor to ban open carry of weapons in Cuyahoga County for the week, according to Fox8 TV.
Mayor Frank G. Jackson said in an interview that his goal is for the Republicans to have a successful convention and for Cleveland to remain safe and secure. The convention, however fraught with dangers at a time of national insecurity, could be a boon for a city once derided as the Mistake on the Lake but seemingly on the way up — having just celebrated an NBA championship with a public gathering that drew a million people.
“It’s open for business. It’s business with some inconvenience,” the mayor said of his city after being slightly late for the news conference (“We’re learning to navigate road closures and fencing”).
A young man at the news conference said people under 21 have a hard time finding a public restroom — since they cannot go into bars — and said he was told by a police officer “to go down the alley.’
Williams responded, “We have port-o-potties all over downtown. They’re green things with a white top.”
The chief said the city has been preparing for the Republican National Convention for two years and has brought in “thousands” of officers from “hundreds” of other police departments for additional security, some as far away as California, Florida and Maine.
“I’m ready to get this started, to be honest,” Williams said. “It’s game time.”
Robert Samuels contributed to this report.