Friday, February 1, 2019

Word of the Year 2019: Action: Legal Observers

At immigrant family-separation protest in Troy, Missouri. June 2018.

Yesterday I attended ACLU Texas' training for volunteer legal observers.

The ACLU's role definition of a volunteer legal observer:
Legal observers act as legal witnesses to political demonstrations and document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to constitutionally protected free speech are challenged in court.

Police with crowds awaiting the arrival of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch. Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia. August 2011.

The presence of ACLU legal observers at a public gathering:
  1. Carries the political and legal gravitas of an organization with high name recognition and a history of successful and very public litigious actions.
  2. Alerts law enforcement that eyes are on them, encouraging appropriate behavior.
  3. Reassures participants that there are witnesses present who are documenting actions.
  4. Demonstrates a "best practice" in a system that espouses civil rights - keeping honest people honest.
The presence of ACLU legal observers bolsters the voices of law enforcement officers on the ground who strive to "protect and serve" everyone in a public gathering - but whose voices might be drowned out by peers who abuse their law-enforcement authority.

My friend, Kate, the rabble rouser, having her sign broken apart by law enforcement prior to visit by President Bush, presumably because of the wooden sign bolster. Credit: Columbia Missouri Tribune.

The three main tasks of an observer:
  • Monitor
  • Record
  • Report

Until I went to the ACLU training, I didn't know about the National Lawyers Guild. Since its founding in 1937, the NLG has existed to "put human rights above property rights."

NLG launched its legal observer program in 1968! NLG's legal observer program is one component of its larger Mass Defense Program, which "is a network of lawyers, legal workers and law students providing legal support for political activists, protesters and movements for social change."

Here is a link to the 2003 version of NLG's Legal Observer Manual.

Police presence at protest in Tlaxcala, Mexico. February 2009.

Although I'm leaving the El Paso area shortly, I'll try to hook up with an ACLU legal observers group at my new home ground. To take action.

No comments: