More festive than scary in Cleveland despite heavy security

Mrs Rose Hamid and her son Samir were in Cleveland with their message of peace.
Mrs Rose Hamid and her son Samir were in Cleveland with their message of peace.ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH

On a street two blocks from the venue where Mr Donald Trump - who has vowed to bar Muslims from entering the United States - was expected to be nominated the Republican Party's presidential candidate this week, Mrs Rose Hamid and her son Samir quietly passed out pens tipped with roses to passers-by with the message "Salam: I come in peace".

Not far away, a bearded man with a crucifix emblazoned with the words "Vote 4 Jesus" screamed wildly about America going to hell in a handbasket.

In nearby Public Square, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Public Enemy, rappers Cypress Hill and Rage Against The Machine leader Tom Morello pulled out a boombox and rapped to introduce their new supergroup, Prophets of Rage - and slammed Republicans.

So while Americans celebrated their freedom to protest, each in his own way, the streets of Cleveland on the first day of the Republican National Convention on Monday felt more fun than frightening, especially in the light of the recent fatal shootings of policemen in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Certainly the security presence was positively massive. About 3,000 uniformed men and women who came to Cleveland from all over the US walked the streets and plazas in groups. Yet people moved freely round the city - at least on foot, given the numerous roads and even interstates blocked for security reasons - except for heavily fenced-in security zones round The Q (the Quicken Loans Arena) itself.

And they came in all shapes, sizes and colours - few of them seeming to be from Cleveland itself, but for a Sikh. His turban was wrapped round a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team bandana and his sign protested the spending of US$50 million (S$67.7 million) in taxpayer's money on a renovation of Public Square to showcase the city's renaissance.

Behind him, protesters wore black masks and Arab kaffiyehs. Some wore shirts that said "People Before Profits". They would identify themselves only as members of the Anonymous group known for posting mysterious messages on social media.

As for the American-born Mrs Hamid, 56, and Samir, 24, they financed their trip from Charlotte, North Carolina, to bring their hope of a peaceful convention to Cleveland. Her main concern was getting the message of "Salam", emblazoned on her purse and Samir's T-shirt, to Republican delegates.

Just then, a group from Texas, decked out in red, white and blue apparel, walked by. They thanked her for the rose pens, asked where she and her son were from, and invited them to visit their state. Mrs Hamid said: "Now that's the kind of interaction I've been hoping for."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'More festive than scary in Cleveland despite heavy security'. Print Edition | Subscribe