I-Team: Concern over outside agitators coming to Cleveland during presidential debate

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CLEVELAND (WJW)– The FOX 8 I-Team found who’s in town already and who’s leaving as we investigate whether the presidential debate in Cleveland will attract any troublemakers looking to spark rioting or looting.

Early Monday, we met the first out-of-town protesters on the ground and saw the first protest in the air: a plane carrying a banner with a political message.

Meantime, we also met a homeowner going to a hotel with his wife just in case the debate crowd erupts into rioting. Doug Gray lives a stone’s throw from the site of the debate. But, he and his wife worry about chaos in the streets even with the Ohio National Guard helping police to patrol.

“No, I don’t want to take the chance. I’ve seen what they’ve done on TV in other cities. So, no, no way,” Gray said.

Among the first protestors to roll in from out-of-state was Tom Moran, a school bus driver from Michigan. He said he’s out of work and he blames President Donald Trump for not doing more to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m out of a job now because there’s no in-person school because Trump failed us,” he said. “The debate’s gonna be here. The candidates will be here. The focus is here.”

We also reached out to an internet watchdog group scouring the web for anything about the debate. The Coalition For A Safer Web even researches the fringes of the internet. The group’s vice president Eric Feinberg said, so far, he has not seen the kind of alarming posts he saw months ago around riots in Cleveland and in other cities. But, there’s more to consider.

“The problem with social media is there’s no verification,” Feinberg said.

He said most of what he’s seen so far appears to be “Cleveland based.” But, “Anybody can set these pages up.” Then, there can be no way to know the reaction generated by any post.

“People have a right to protest, but you don’t know those who have ulterior motives who latch onto these things. That’s when they result in violence.”

Everywhere you look near the site of the debate you see police and roadblocks. Cleveland officers started working 12-hour shifts. Days off were canceled. Cleveland Clinic police offered outside officers $59 an hour to come work part time around this event.

“As safety remains our top priority, our Cleveland Clinic police department is working closely with the Case Western Reserve University and University Circle police departments as well as the Cleveland Division of Police, U.S. Secret Service and area police departments to maintain a safe environment leading up to and during the debate. We have also partnered with city officials and local police departments to provide safety tips to residents and local businesses,” the Clinic said in a statement.

Local activist Larry Bresler led marches here with Organize Ohio during the Republican National Convention. But he did not organize a march for the debate. He said he thinks this time it would not have any impact.

“Nobody’s gonna be able to get anywhere close,” Bresler said. “I intend to be there, but I’m concerned its not gonna get the kind of notice that’s warranted.”

Other groups will protest and some predict they will have several hundred or more people taking part.

That brings us back to Gray leaving home.

“This is a prime area between Chester and Euclid. They could come running through our streets and damage things,” he said.

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