CLEVELAND (AP)–Police took about a dozen people into custody Wednesday evening as scuffles broke out during a flag-burning protest 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 night’s proceedings.
Police said 17 were taken into custody.
Two officers were assaulted and suffered minor injuries, police said. 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 cable news networks had set up for the week.
Officers swarmed the group within seconds after the flag started to burn, and firefighters extinguished it right away. Pushing and shoving broke out, and police began pinning people to the ground and handcuffing them.
Some in the crowd jeered the officers, yelling, “Blue lives murder!”
About 10 more minutes passed before the crowd was under control.
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 trying to restore order by pushing people back.
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Earlier, 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.
“I’m out here to illustrate that not all gun owners, if any or very few, are irresponsible or uneducated,” he said.
The city’s police chief said he spent three hours Tuesday evening riding with bicycle officers on patrol and that he waded into one confrontation because he’s “still a police officer.”
Williams said he plans to show up wherever there are “issues” during the convention.
As of Tuesday evening, 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.