There has been a lot of praise for the way Cleveland handled the Republican National Convention. Everything seemed to go smoothly and many of the visitors, either first timers to the city or people whose last visit was decades ago, seemed surprised to find that it was not the gritty, crime-filled scene that they anticipated to see but was instead a pleasant place with friendly and helpful people and many things for visitors to do and see. There have been long-standing plans to improve the downtown and all those efforts were pushed to completion because of the convention. The city had put its best face forward and it showed.
The Cleveland police and in particular its chief Calvin Williams were singled out for praise for the way that they dealt with the crowds and protestors. The most visible police presence was of officers on bikes wearing light clothing and shirtsleeves, and this included the police chief himself leading by example by mixing with the crowds, and this created a much more relaxed atmosphere than a heavily armored and militarized appearance would have.
Here is a video of the police chief praying with a group of protestors.
The bikes were not used by the police only for getting around but also could be converted at short notice to form flexible barriers to separate different groups of protestors. Only twenty four people were arrested during the convention and two face felony charges and those who spent some time in jail said they had no complaints about how they were treated.
I hope that this signals a new trend in police-public relations in Cleveland that have been atrocious in the past, with the most notable incidents being the killing of 12-year old Tamir Rice in 2014 and the massive high speed car chase in 2012 that resulted in the firing of 137 bullets and deaths of two people. The situation was so bad that the Justice Department investigated the police department and found that they routinely used excessive force and issued a consent decree last year, requiring major reforms.
But I want to emphasize an important step that the city took last week during the convention that may have passed unnoticed with all the hoopla. The mayor signed into law a new bathroom and locker room policy that is transgender-friendly.
Cleveland City Council on Wednesday passed legislation empowering transgender people to choose whichever restroom, shower or locker room aligns with their gender identity, without fear of discrimination.
The measure was introduced in 2013 as part of a package of ordinances that update the city’s existing anti-discrimination laws to include the transgender community.
The legislation removes a passage from the existing nondiscrimination ordinance that allowed for owners of private business with “public accommodations” to discriminate based on a person’s gender identity or expression and dictate which bathroom a person should use, “provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available.”
Cleveland has been much more welcoming to the LGBT community than the state of Ohio as a whole. After the state passed a constitutional amendment in 2004 forbidding same-sex marriages, Cleveland adopted a domestic partner registry system that gave at least some benefits to same-sex couples but even more importantly, it symbolized the city’s positive attitude towards the LGBT community.
Cleveland has also been very welcoming towards refugees and immigrants, with refugees settling down and getting jobs more quickly than the national average.
So there was some irony in the Republicans, so vehemently opposed to LGBT rights and to immigrants and refugees, having their big party in a city that embraces all of them.
So take a bow, Cleveland. You are doing many things right.