CHICAGO – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump canceled one of his signature rallies Friday, calling off the event in Chicago due to safety concerns after protesters packed the arena where it was to take place.
The announcement the billionaire businessman would postpone the rally until another day led a large portion of the crowd inside the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion to break out into raucous cheers. Many rushed onto the floor, jumping up and down with their arms up in the air.
“Trump represents everything America is not and everything Chicago is not,” said Kamran Siddiqui, 20, a student at the school who was among those celebrating. “We came in here and we wanted to shut this down. Because this is a great city and we don’t want to let that person in here.”
Some supporters of the Republican front-runner started chanting “We want Trump! We want Trump!” in response to the celebrations, and there were some isolated physical confrontations between members of the crowd. Chicago police said there were no immediate arrests.
As Trump attempts to unify a fractured Republican Party ahead of next week’s slate of winner-takes-all primary elections, confrontations at rallies between his legion of loyal supporters and protesters who accuse him of stoking racial hatred have intensified.
A North Carolina man was arrested after video footage showed him punching an African-American protester being led out of a rally in that state on Wednesday. At that event, the billionaire real estate mogul recalled a past protester as “a real bad dude.”
“He was a rough guy, and he was punching. And we had some people — some rough guys like we have right in here — and they started punching back,” Trump said. “It was a beautiful thing.”
At Trump’s rally earlier Friday in St. Louis, he was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. Police there charged nearly three dozen people with general peace disturbance.
In a telephone interview after postponing his event in Chicago, Trump said he didn’t “want to see people hurt or worse” at the rally, telling MSNBC that, “I think we did the right thing.”
Trump said the anger on display in Chicago was not directed at him or his campaign, but rather was a manifestation of the public’s deep frustration with economic conditions in the country.
“Our businesses are being taken away from us, our businesses are being moved out of the country,” Trump said on Fox News. “This is a demonstration against economic conditions on both sides.”
But many of the protesters in Chicago said they were there to specifically to stop Trump from speaking.
“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.”
Dozens of University of Illinois at Chicago faculty and staff petitioned university administrators earlier in the week to cancel the rally, citing concerns it would create a “hostile and physically dangerous environment” for students.
One Trump supporter at the Chicago rally said Trump had created the environment that led to Friday night’s melee by holding the event at the school — a civil and immigrant rights organizing hub with large minority student populations.
Hours before the event in Chicago was scheduled to start, hundreds of people lined up to get into the arena. Trump backers were separated from an equally large crowd of anti-Trump protesters by a heavy police presence and barricades.
Once inside, some supporters and protesters engaged in a handful of intense verbal clashes.
For the first time during his White House bid, the crowd at one of his events appeared to be an equal mix of those eager to cheer on the real estate mogul and those overtly opposed to his candidacy.