Terrell Starr

CLEVELAND—While the Republican National Convention was celebrating Donald Trump, a small but very visible group of mostly black female college students gathered downtown on Thursday to say that his candidacy amounts to an approval of white supremacy.

Public Square was full of passersby chit-chatting, regiments of cops from Florida, Texas, Georgia and other states standing guard, and reporters waiting around restlessly for something to pop off.

But it was fairly quiet when about 15 of the students stood in front of the fountains in the middle of the square with posters depicting black Cleveland neighborhoods and tweets from people challenging police brutality and gentrification in Cleveland.

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They are issues the women said Republicans do not care about. Tatyana Atkinson, 21, told me she was protesting because she believes the convention has made locals feel even less welcome and even less safe.

“We’re just enjoying Public Square,” she said. “And if you’re uncomfortable with us being there, well, we’re uncomfortable with you being in our city. So, here we are.”

Samara Malone, 21, holding a sign of a tweet challenging an RNC theme.
Terrell Starr

Most of the RNC coverage has focused on downtown, but Samara Malone, 21, told me that black people who live in poorer parts of town have been ignored. Those parts of town will not enjoy the economic boost of the convention.

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As far as Malone is concerned, the delegates at the convention don’t care about the people in those communities. Moreover, she argues that they do not have any critique of the racism that allows cops to shoot and kill black people with impunity.

People like John Crawford, who was killed by cops for holding a gun in the gun section of a Walmart, and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was playing in a park, and Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were killed after cops fired 137 shots into their car, aren’t part of the narrative RNC goers heard about in Cleveland.

“We’re not going to let them come into our city and displace all of these people who have been keeping this struggling economy afloat,” she said, speaking of the people she says used to congregate here but have vanished because of the RNC.

As the women formed a line around the water fountains in the middle of the square, some people confronted them about why they were protesting Trump.

Bob Powell, who is armed with a .40 handgun, confronts the student protesters in Public Square.
Terrell Starr

Bob Powell, a broadcaster from Michigan, was strapped with a .40-caliber handgun on his holster when he challenged Malone. When someone from the crowd that had gathered asked why he was packing heat, he said he and his family had been threatened for his conservative views. Another person mentioned that no one in the crowd had threatened him. Powell replied, “You never know.”

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The protest started with about 10 people, but more people joined them and took posters the women made that highlighted examples of racial injustice in Cleveland. It ended with 23, some of whom were white men and women. The white people in the line could be heard challenging pro-Trump supporters on their white privilege.

Anyone who wanted to join the action to call attention the racism black Clevelanders face was welcome. No arrests were made.

Britannia Duncan, 14, challenging Donald Trump's rhetoric on minorities.
Terrell Starr

Their mission was accomplished: People were paying attention to the real Cleveland, the parts of town most of the RNC-goers will never visit.

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Alice Ragland, 24, one of the protesters, who is from Cleveland, told me she believes the image of black women occupying space downtown will show the world who the city of Cleveland really needs to focus on.

“People will no longer will be able to be to ignore our existence,” she told me. “I feel like a lot of the people who are here, the delegates specifically, the people who are here at the Republican convention, have supported policies that have ignored and disregarded the experience of people of color and our needs.”

“This action will highlight that we are here, we’re not going anywhere, we live here,” she added. “We’re not going to just take the fact that Republican policies deny our existence every single day.”

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Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.