The Republican National Convention takes place this week, July 18-21, in Cleveland at a time of civil unrest after the recent shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, five Dallas police officers, and now three Baton Rouge police officers. In all of our advocacy G & B promotes non-violence while encouraging all those who seek reform to voice their beliefs.

It was inevitable that the RNC was going to be a contentious event with numerous protestors due to the nomination of controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. However, these recent events now fuel protesters more than ever and put issues such as race and policing, excessive force, security, and guns to the forefront of the Convention.  These issues need a full airing.

Violent anti-Trump protests at the presidential nominee’s rallies throughout the country this year may foreshadow what city officials and police officers can expectthis week. Those in opposition to Donald Trump are expected to be joined by thousands of other passionate protestors and advocates, such as those of the Black Lives Matter movement, who seek to highlight issues of racial targeting and police shootings in light of recent events. Initially, due to security concerns and concerns of violent protests, the City of Cleveland significantly restricted protestors’ access to areas outside of the convention site and planned to have a 3.5 square mile area “event zone “around the convention site with restrictions on protests and parades. After the ACLU brought a First Amendment challenge against the City, the City of Cleveland and the ACLU reached an agreement to allow protestors greater access to areas outside the convention site and more visibility to convention goers.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has expressed his growing concerns over “the possibility of violence “and “the prospects of protests getting out of hand. “In addition to its own force of about 500 officers, Cleveland will receive help from 2,500 law enforcement officers from across the country, and the federal government will be sending thousands of its employees from various agencies to assist. Any of these non-Cleveland officers can detain or handcuffindividuals that violate the law, but only until a Cleveland police supervisor responds to the scene to conduct an investigation, interview the detainee, and then decide whether or not to make a formal arrest. Several police supervisors, both from Cleveland and outside Cleveland, will be on hand to oversee the thousands of officers.

But will this increased officer presence and oversight be enough to make the convention itself and the protest events safe?  Several challenges persist.

First, along with David Malik, this firm represents the family of Tanisha Anderson.  The family of Tanisha Anderson filed a motion seeking summary judgment against Cleveland Police Officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers and the City of Cleveland. The motion called for increased training for Cleveland police officers on positional asphyxia, the cause of Tanisha’s death, and immediate education to better prepare officers to handle protests and arrests at the RNC.

On November 12, 2014, Tanisha Anderson was experiencing a period of mental instability when Officers Aldridge and Myers responded to her home and used excessive force by holding her down to the ground, prone and cuffed behind her back, causing her respiratory problems. This incident ultimately led to her death from positional asphyxia after officers delayed a call to the EMS for 14 minutes. An expert report accompanying the motion revealed that the City of Cleveland caused Tanisha’s suffering and death by failing to train and supervise its officers regarding positional asphyxiation. For the past 20 months since Tanisha’s death, there has been no criminal prosecution initiated or discipline imposed. The family is outraged and seeks justice for their loved one. They do not want any more deaths due to positional asphyxia.

Second, Ohio is an open-carry state and “people are allowed to carry pistols, long guns, and assault rifles in public, including during demonstrations. “Guns, weapons, and other items will not be allowed inside the Quicken Loans Arena, the site of the convention, and around a small security perimeter outside of the arena, but citizens may possess guns in other areas outside the convention site per state law. Though, the city has banned other weapons and miscellaneous items such as knives, pepper spray, coolers, canned goods, water guns, loud speakers, and tennis balls from a 1.7 square mile zone outside the convention site. The open-carry law especially raises eyebrows after persons targeting police in Baton Rouge and Dallas openly carried assault rifles on the streets before going on a shooting rampage and killing police officers.

Third, to ensure accountability, protests and police demeanor will be subject to increased scrutiny at the RNC as “the protests at this year’s convention will likely be among the most recorded in history. “Most officers will be wearing body cameras, and citizens will be recording protests and confrontations with cell phones. Cleveland has no experience with body cameras so this could be problematic.

The Republican National Convention presents Cleveland police with the challenge of balancing officer and citizen safety with citizens’ First Amendment rights and rights to be free from excessive force brought on by police officers.  G & B trusts that all civil rights will be protected during this important event.

Authored by Eden Thompson, University of Cincinnati Law Student, and Gerhardstein & Branch Law Clerk

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