Rioting. Shooting. Newborn babes being ripped from mother’s teat and offered up as a blood sacrifice to the Lord of Light. Pretty much every media outlet is predicting a shitshow in Cleveland this week. Not just predicting, but hoping. Imagine the ratings if people get clubbed or tasered or tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed or rubber-bulleted or deafened by a sound cannon or, hell, even killed on live TV! Not true, they’d say. We’d neeeeeever wish for that kind of carnage. Of course they’d never stop showing it, either. Over and over. Hour after hour. But it’s news, they’d say! The people have a right to know.
Yeah, right. We all know the score. It’s not quite the year 2025, but we’re sure as hell living in The Running Man. Donald Trump is Killian, and every network is ICS, and we’re the pathetic suckers who can’t miss an episode, can’t look away, can’t wait to see who gets the shit stomped out of ’em this time. The only difference is there’s no Ben Richards to come and save us. Even the guy who played him in the movie wants no part of Cleveland this week.
Hell, even Cleveland wants no part of Cleveland this week. Many of the big downtown corporations like KeyCorp and Medical Mutual of Ohio are allowing employees to work from home. Smaller businesses that don’t sell food or booze are closing for the week. Like 75-year-old instrument store Prospect Music. “It’s going to be difficult every day, not only for us but for our clientele,” owner Mike Rubin told Crain’s Cleveland Business, “so I don’t see the point of even being here.” And downtown universities like Cleveland State have suggested their teachers hold classes off-campus.
The city isn’t even trying to put up a front. In March it spent $1.5 million on a $10 million insurance policy to protect cops and other city employees against potential lawsuits. Then, just a couple weeks ago, it upped that coverage to $50 million at a cost of $9.5 million. (Philadelphia has just $10 million worth of coverage for this year’s Democratic National Convention.) That $9.5 million came from a $50 million federal grant to cover convention costs. What’d the other $40 million and change go to? To 2,000 sets of riot gear, 2,000 steel batons, 325 sets of tactical armor, 10,000 handcuffs and 25 rifle scopes. So, yeah, not exactly reassuring.
But I don’t know—I’m more optimistic. I actually think there’s a good chance nothing too crazy goes down in Cleveland. That there is no brutality and bloodshed.
I live in New York, but I’m originally from Northeastern Ohio, and I’ve talked to a lot of my friends who live back there, and they all say that Cleveland is a different place now. There is a different energy. You can literally feel it walking around downtown. The gloom and pessimism and overall shitty outlook on life that went along with not winning a professional sports championship in 52 years—it vanished even quicker than manufacturing jobs in the area the second the final buzzer sounded on June 19 and LeBron James collapsed to the hardwood in tears.
Cleveland right now is like goddamn Whoville. Everybody is joining hands and singing songs and dancing around.
Cleveland right now is like goddamn Whoville. Everybody is joining hands and singing songs and dancing around. All these protesters who descend on the place, they’re going to be walking down the same streets and rubbing shoulders with these same people–and that has to have some effect. Maybe their hearts won’t grow three sizes, but there is a positive energy there that no one is immune to.
That goes for the police, too. Finally, their town’s got a good name. Finally, it’s not just a punchline.
I was in Montreal the other weekend for vacation, wearing my Cavs hat and championship T, when some French-Canadian dude rode his bike past me on the sidewalk and yelled something. I thought he was yelling at me to get out of the way. He had a thick accent, and I couldn’t understand right away. When he got by me I saw he was wearing a Cavs hat, too. “Yeah, Cleveland,” he was yelling.
Sure, there will be signs for Black Lives Matter. And there might be some signs against Black Lives Matter. Protests will take place, as they should. There is much to protest in 2016. All of the signs, from all of the sides, will be dwarfed by an image that hangs from the Sherwin-Williams Building, right across the street from the convention hall. It’s an enormous banner, ten stories high. It was supposed to be taken down this week and replaced with an ad for the paint company. But nearly 24,000 people signed a change.org petition to keep it up. It’s an advertisement for Nike, a mural of LeBron tossing chalk. There are no slogans. Just a simple black-and-white image. Every time Republican delegates and even the Donald himself walk in and out of Quicken Loans Arena they will see that image. They will see towering over them a 31-year-old black man who grew up in the projects 40 minutes south on Interstate 77. A black man who has given new life to a city. A black man who has really, truly made part of America great again.
“We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence,” James said in a speech to open the ESPYs this week. “We do. But that’s not acceptable. It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what are we doing to create change…Speak up. Use our influence. And renounce all violence.”
I hope the protesters and the police heed his plea. I hope they don’t give any flesh to all the fucking pundits and talking heads and reporters who are going to be swooping down like vultures. That includes me. I’ll be there, too. Notebook in hand. Decked out in Cavs swag. Hoping the city I love surprises everyone. Hoping to be bored out of my mind.
Follow Sean Manning on Twitter: @talkingcovers.