CLEVELAND—White men are walking around downtown with handguns strapped to their sides or assault rifles over their shoulders. Bikers from out of state who vow to offer protection for Donald Trump are smoking cigarettes on street corners. And people sporting Make America Great Again T-shirts and baseball caps are strolling down Euclid Avenue.
Rachel Newsome, 27, wants all of them to go back where they came from. She is an activist, and these people scare her because they’re throwing their support behind a man who she feels is racist and views Black Lives Matter with contempt. In light of the police shootings in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Newsome believes people are showing off their weapons here just to spite black people who are fighting police brutality.
“As a black woman, it makes me terrified because they are trying to make Black Lives Matter into a terrorist group and comparing us to ISIS,” she told me in the lobby of the downtown building where she works. “It’s ridiculous. I think it’s going to get worse if Trump is president.”
On the second day of the Republican National Convention, the motto is Make America Work Again. To many of the black Americans I’ve spoken to who work downtown, it’s a curious choice. Some black people have told me they were so uncomfortable working downtown that they tried to get time off during the convention. Most said it wasn’t possible because their superiors denied their requests.
When Samantha Fields’ 2-year-old daughter pointed in the direction of a man carrying a firearm and asked, “Mommy, what’s that?,” she told her, “Mommy doesn’t know.”
The gun-toting men walking freely downtown frighten Fields, who works as a hostess at a restaurant downtown.
“This is not good for Cleveland,” Fields, 20, told me, as she held her daughter, Kah’marieona.
Many of Trump’s supporters have boasted about his decades-long experience in real estate as evidence that electing him will ensure a revitalization of the American economy. None of the people who will speak Tuesday night are expected to acknowledge his corporate bankruptcies, which presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton says he used to fill his own coffers while leaving workers strapped for cash. They also will not mention the 1973 Justice Department lawsuit accusing him of discriminating against people of color who wanted to lease his apartments. Then there’s the story of black workers at his Atlantic City casino being replaced with white ones whenever he came to town.
Most of the black Clevelanders I spoke to told me they have no faith Trump’s economic policies will benefit them.
Newsome put it more bluntly: “I don’t think he knows anything about policy or our economy. I think he is just trolling us, honestly. It feels like a big joke.”
Kevin Britten, 50, who works at as a bartender not far from Quicken Loans Arena, where the RNC is taking place, shares a lot of Newsome’s sentiments. Not only does he believe Trump is racist, he doesn’t believe Republicans, especially under a Trump administration, will create economic policies that benefit minorities. But, mostly, he thinks Trump is unfit for the Oval Office.
“With the world situation, all of the police violence and people retaliating against police, I think it’s going to create more problems if he is in office,” Britten, who is voting for Clinton, told me.
Black people have not fared well under the Republican or Democratic parties, though. The unemployment rate for black people has been double that white Americans since the 1953. Michelle Alexander penned a robust critique of how former President Bill Clinton’s welfare policies were harmful to black Americans. And many of the cities in which the most abusive police practices have taken place—Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia—have been run by Democrats for decades.
“I don’t think either party is in the saving graces of the African-American community,” Dione KurKendall, 39, a senior administrative assistant, who works in downtown Cleveland, told me. “You have the history of Hillary Clinton, who says our little black boys should be locked up. And then you have Donald Trump who says immigrants and anyone of brown skin and black skin should be deported because of his inability to understand what terrorism really is.”
Asked if she thinks Trump is racist, KurKendall said, “I believe he is a bigot.”
Whether you think he is a bigot or a racist, neither term is complimentary. If Trump plans on winning in the fall, white men need to come out in droves to support him. Women hate him. Latinos have also given him the fade, and he is doing so poorly with black voters that he is polling at 0% in Pennsylvania and here in Ohio.
Newsome thinks “Make America Work Again” is nothing more than a farce. The theme doesn’t include people who look like her. She can’t wait until Thursday night. That’s when the convention ends. The heavily armed law enforcement officials from Michigan, Kansas, Indiana and other states standing guard on downtown’s busiest corners will depart. The gun-loving white men chillin’ alongside them will also disappear.
“People are just walking around with guns and police are at every single corner,” she told me. “I don’t feel safe.”
Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.