CLEVELAND (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators for and against Donald Trump gathered in Cleveland’s Public Square late Thursday but slowly — and peacefully — scattered ahead of Trump’s prime-time acceptance speech on the last night of the Republican convention.
Shouting matches and scuffles among the groups — who included anarchists, anti-Muslim protesters and Bikers for Trump — came to a halt once they were outnumbered by hundreds of police officers who streamed into the sun-soaked square in the biggest show of force during the four-day convention.
Soon, the protesters yelling into bullhorns were gone, and a stage set up for demonstrators was empty for the first time all week. Gawkers and police officers milled about, and children played in the fountains.
An anti-Trump rally never really materialized, drawing just a few dozen people.
Police said a George state trooper was treated for skin irritation after saying he feel felt burning or numbness when he came into contact with one of the stickers that have been circulating during protests in the square. Authorities were investigating whether the sticker was to blame.
Syringes were added to a list of items banned in the protest zone around the convention over concerns that officers could be targeted.
Before the crowds of protesters melted away, police on bicycles and on foot fanned out to keep hostile groups apart.
In an almost carnival-like scene, state troopers from Indiana played ping pong with people in the square. Women waving pink heart-shaped signs supporting abortion rights danced in a fountain. And demonstrators dressed as nuns on stilts, anarchists wearing bandanas over their faces and religious conservatives vied for attention.
As of Thursday, police reported 23 protest-related arrests since Monday, well below what law enforcement officials had feared. Seventeen of the arrests came Wednesday, during a melee that erupted during a flag-burning outside an entrance to the convention arena.
Trump said Cleveland police were doing “an incredible job.”
Early in the afternoon, about 150 protesters carrying signs saying “Ban All Trumps Not Muslims” and chanting “Love Trumps Hate” marched across a Cleveland bridge, dutifully following the city-designated route for protest marches. They drew little attention from anyone other than the police.
“Trump is trying to use the moment to divide us. He’s trying to use the moment to gain personal power,” said march organizer Bryan Hambley, a Cleveland doctor.
Meanwhile, organizers of the flag-burning denied on Thursday that the man holding the American flag was on fire and said police used that as an excuse to move in.
Most of those arrested were charged disorderly conduct or obstruction of business and were released.
Among those arrested was Gregory “Joey” Johnson, whose torching of a flag at a GOP convention three decades ago led to the landmark 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said flag-burning is protected by the First Amendment.
His arraignment was held up Thursday because of what was described as a paperwork delay, but he was released later in the evening.
Associated Press writer Mark Gillispie contributed to this report.