With less than three weeks to go before the Republican National Convention, the mayor of Cleveland told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos on Wednesday that the city will be ready for the hordes of demonstrators expected to protest the nomination of Donald Trump.
“People have a right to demonstrate. People have a right to protest,” Mayor Frank G. Jackson said. “What they don’t have the right to do is to do harm to people or tear up the place.”
Although Jackson said law enforcement will be armed with “protective gear if necessary,” he stressed that the city would not “start with helmets and shields” in dealing with protesters. “We start in a way that is friendly, that is a way in which we welcome people,” Jackson said.
Asked about reports that out-of-town police departments are pulling out of plans to provide additional security in Cleveland, Jackson said the city would have more than enough cops on the ground.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city several weeks ago over what the ACLU said were unreasonable restrictions on protesters. The parties announced a settlement on Wednesday that will cut in half the area of a heightened security zone around the convention site, adding room for demonstrators.
Still, activists and protesters in Cleveland have told Fusion reporters and producers that law enforcement officials have called and visited them to ask about their plans during the convention. Jackson denied knowledge of it and said he was “not privy to activities or confidential things that are being done for security purposes.”
But he said contact between law enforcement and protesters goes both ways.
“I do know that there are activists and people who tend to protest who actually call us,” he said, “so I imagine some of those conversations have occurred on both sides, but I’m not privy to that kind of information.”
As for his thoughts on Trump, Jackson declined to label him a racist.
“Now you have to ask Donald Trump that—if whether or not he’s a racist,” the mayor said. “I’m not here to add to that conversation with you. I’m here to talk about a convention, whether or not we’re prepared for that convention—and we are prepared for it. We’ll conduct a convention that is safe and secure for visitors, for the delegates, for protesters, demonstrators. We’ll protect the interests of the city.”
The convention opens July 18.
Watch the full interview below: