CLEVELAND — Police fired pepper spray at a surging crowd and took several people into custody as skirmishes broke out during a flag-burning Wednesday in the streets outside the Republican National Convention.
It was the most turbulent protest since the four-day convention began on Monday. The chaos briefly prevented delegates and members of the media from getting into the Quicken Loans Arena for the evening’s proceedings.
Lt. Michael Butler said 10 to 16 people were taken into custody and would be charged.
Police said two officers were assaulted and suffered minor injuries. One officer was seen bleeding from his elbow.
Carl Dix, a representative of Revolutionary Communist Party, said the group organized the burning of the American flag as a “political statement about the crimes of the American empire. There’s nothing great about America.”
The skirmish erupted just outside an entrance to the arena and near a row of popular restaurants where a couple of cable news networks had set up their operations for the convention.
Officers, some wearing riot helmets, yelled at the crowd to move back as members of the flag-burning group locked arms amid chants of “It’s time, it’s time for a revolution.” Pushing and shoving broke out, and police began pinning people to the ground and handcuffing them.
Firefighters extinguished the flag and took it away, police said.
One man who was in handcuffs stood in the street with his shirt pulled above his shoulders. A woman in a torn shirt also was led away in handcuffs.
Police Chief Calvin Williams was among a dozen officers pushing people away. He later pulled aside a man with a bandana over his face and told him he needed to check his backpack. And he helped check delegates’ credentials before letting them through.
Earlier in the day, blocks away from the arena, a right-wing religious group lifted a banner reading “Jesus is angry with you sinners,” while kissing lesbians mocked their message, helping turn Cleveland’s Public Square into part-carnival, part-debate floor.
The expansive square was a free-flowing mix of ideas and beliefs along with colorful characters pounding on bongos and wailing on a sousaphone.
The day’s demonstrations started with a few dozen people holding banners printed with a red-brick design and forming a human wall to mock Donald Trump’s plan to seal off the Mexican border.
“We want to wall off the hate of Trump,” said Tim Chavez, of Columbus.
A half-dozen Trump supporters defended the GOP nominee from attacks by immigration activists.
Police officers used bicycles and their bodies to separate those with opposing views.
Jesse Gonzalez, of Lakewood, a Cleveland suburb, carried a rifle on Public Square while wearing a camouflage-style “Make America Great Again” hat. Ohio law allows gun owners to carry their weapons openly.
“I’m out here to illustrate that not all gun owners, if any or very few, are irresponsible or uneducated,” he said.
Before the flag-burning protest turned violent, police said five people had been arrested since the start of the convention.
That includes one person accused of trying to steal a state trooper’s gas mask and three people charged with climbing flagpoles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and hanging an anti-Trump banner.