Donald Trump likes to play tough guy. In Chicago, Trump’s fans and his critics tangled. Republicans say it’s not their fault.
Several thousand people protested in Chicago at a campaign event held by controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Then his campaign team announced that Trump’s appearance at the University of Illinois arena was being cancelled for safety reasons. Television coverage showed the crowd of Trump supporters and demonstrators engaging in pushing, shoving and fist fights.
The scandal spotlighted a campaign found by many to be polarized, mainly by Trump himself. He has often ejected individual demonstrators from his audiences in the past, always accompanied by trenchant comments and an authoritarian manner that his followers seem to love.
Many demonstrators were able to infiltrate the arena. Some of them tore down campaign posters, but it’s unclear whether anyone was injured in the heated scuffles. Numerous protesters had also assembled outside the hall and the Chicago Tribune reported that some of them blocked automobile access to the arena. The police took several people into custody and the protests finally ended.
Hours prior to the advertised starting time, people were already lining up outside the arena. Trump supporters were separated from a large number of protesters by a massive police presence and physical barricades. For the first time at one of the real estate mogul’s campaign events, the number of his supporters seemed to equal the number of protesters.
One demonstrator told CNN, “I’m protesting because I’m black and Mexican and I’m not sure where he wants to deport me to, but I deal with racism daily in Chicago and I’ve had enough.” Trump has repeatedly stirred emotions with right-wing populist comments such as his stated intention to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep undocumented immigrants out of the United States.
‘I Don’t Want To See People Hurt’
Trump defended his decision to cancel the event saying he didn’t want to see anyone hurt, calling his decision right even though his First Amendment rights had been violated. The Chicago Police, however, later said they had sufficient manpower deployed to keep the situation under control and did not advise Trump to cancel or postpone the event. Trump is the current Republican front runner leading nearest rival Ted Cruz by some 100 delegates.
Punched in the Face
The atmosphere at Trump’s events has become increasingly heated lately. On Wednesday, a Trump supporter punched a black student in the face. That was not the first time that supporters of the Republican candidate have resorted to violence against demonstrators. Trump defended such responses in a Friday afternoon speech: “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Protesters were also among the participants in a Trump rally in St. Louis on Friday. Police later took several dozen people into custody for disturbing the peace, charging one with assault. In his speech, Trump called the demonstrators “troublemakers.”
Asked whether his responses might be a contributing factor to the ongoing violence, he responded, “I have by far the biggest crowds, 25,000, 30,000 people. Last week we had in Alabama 35,000 people. And out of that, we’ll have some disrupters, sometimes put there by other people. But we’ll have some protesters and nobody’s been hurt at all. As big as the rallies are, nobody’s ever been hurt.”
Rival Ted Cruz accused Trump of fostering an atmosphere that promotes this kind of ugly discourse: “A campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment where the candidate urges supporters to engage in violence,” Sen. Cruz said.
And many protesters in Chicago said they had come in the hopes of dissuading Trump from giving his speech. “Our country is not going to make it being divided by the views of Donald Trump,” said Jermaine Hodge, a 37-year-old lifelong Chicago resident who owns a trucking company. “Our country is divided enough. Donald Trump, he’s preaching hate. He’s preaching division.”
“It’s a shame,” said Trump supporter Bill Tail, 43. “They scream about tolerance, but are being intolerant themselves. That doesn’t make sense.”