CLEVELAND (AP) — The organizers of a flag-burning outside the Republican convention that resulted in 17 arrests said Thursday that the man holding the American flag was never on fire and that police used that as an excuse to attack them.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson called that version of events a lie and said: “That will be determined in court.”
The melee outside an entrance to the convention arena on Wednesday sparked the most turbulent protest of the week.
Among those arrested was Gregory “Joey” Johnson, whose torching of a flag at a GOP convention three decades ago led to the landmark 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said flag-burning is protected by the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump opponents planned more protests outside the convention as the four-day event neared its Thursday night finale, keeping thousands of police officers on heightened alert for one more day.
The anti-Trump forces scheduled an afternoon parade and an evening rally on the day Trump was scheduled to accept the Republican nomination for president.
The flag-burning brought to 23 the number of people arrested since the start of the convention, far fewer than many had feared.
“We’re still out there, we’re still vigilant, to make sure we finish this day and the last day tomorrow on a positive note,” Police Chief Calvin Williams said Wednesday evening.
Two officers were assaulted during the flag-burning and suffered minor injuries, police said. The charges against those arrested included failure to disperse, resisting arrest and felonious assault on a police officer. Johnson was charged with disorderly conduct.
In explaining how the melee unfolded, police chief said that a protester whose pants caught fire resisted when a police officer tried to put out the blaze. The man assaulted the officer, and “things escalated from there,” Williams said.
He said most of the arrests were made in the aftermath and were not because of the flag-burning.
Members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which organized the flag-burning, denied someone clothes had caught fire. Sunsara Taylor told reporters those who were arrested were being illegally detained to prevent them from continuing to protest.
Moments after the flag was set on fire, officers charged in to put it out with an extinguishing spray.
“You’re on fire! You’re on fire, stupid!” a Cleveland officer shouted at a protester while firing the extinguishing spray.
Pushing and shoving broke out, and police quickly had several group members on the ground in handcuffs.
Associated Press writer Mark Gillispie contributed to this report.