Perhaps you’ve seen us at a march or rally. You can’t miss the green hats; they’re the brightly colored beacons that let everyone know who we are and why we are there. We are National Lawyers Guild legal observers.
The Role Of The Legal Observer
We only provide legal observers for events that align with our mission and our progressive values. As legal observers, we are there to document any interactions with police, especially those that could later have criminal or civil legal consequences. The primary role of a legal observer is to observe and record incidents and the activities of law enforcement, including any arrest, use of force, intimidating display of force, denial of access to public spaces like parks and sidewalks, and any other behavior that appears to restrict demonstrators’ ability to express their political views.
Legal observers are primarily, but not exclusively, law students, lawyers, or legal workers who understand the sensitive nature of the confidential relationship that is the basis for our work. We seek to provide as much legal protection as possible for the protesters we are there to support.
In order to maintain these legal boundaries:
We cannot give legal advice on the ground while we’re observing;
We cannot participate in the protest or the planning; and
We must try to maintain some separation from the group during the event, including friendly socializing before or after the event.
We are not event security. We are not there to monitor or judge protesters’ actions or tactics, or pass judgment on “good protesters” or “bad protesters,” a distinction our chapter rejects. We do not work with police or law enforcement agencies or act as liaisons between them and the protesters.
What we do is document and observe police interactions. We try to get names, dates of birth, and contact information for arrestees so our mass defense team can connect them to bail funds, visit them in jail, make sure they have needed medications, or connect with friends and family to let them know where they are. We hope that our presence can be a deterrent to violent police tactics and if not, we make sure we’ve documented those tactics for legal advocacy later. We are there to make sure that the right to protest is protected and that the state is held accountable for their actions toward protesters.
As legal professionals we hold a place of privilege and power that very few get; what we do with that privilege and power is truly telling of our individual values. It is a critical moment of reckoning in our nation and one in which protest is playing a crucial role. As attorneys, legal workers and law students, NLG legal observers are using their privilege and power to advocate for protests to be safe spaces to amplify the voices of BIPOC communities that have had their voices stolen for so long. We stand with those communities, side by side, as we are pelted with chemical and physical weapons, while we document the state’s attempts to continue to silence them. We will not be deterred.
If you are an organizer in the community, we urge you to reach out to us. We do not enter spaces to which we are not invited out of respect for your group. If you would like to learn more about what we do or have legal observers at your event, use our request link or email firstname.lastname@example.org.