The National Lawyers Guild is sending trained Legal Observers® to the G-20 Summit protests in Pittsburgh from September 22-26, 2009, where thousands are expected to converge to protest financial mismanagement that led to the global meltdown and resulting job cuts and poverty. Established over 40 years ago, the Guild’s Legal Observer® program provides lawyers and law students to monitor incidents of police misconduct and infringements on the right to engage in lawful protest. Guild observers at previous National Special Security Events have provided a presence to assure protesters that unlawful police practices will not go unchallenged, and to gather information for possible litigation.
Pittsburgh’s particular layout, including 446 bridges, promises to complicate enforcement of a security perimeter and may exacerbate a trend that the Guild has documented of law enforcement overreaction to individuals trying to exercise their First Amendment right to assembly.
Executive Director Heidi Boghosian says, “The dual threat in Pittsburgh is its intricate city layout and the extraordinary level of militarized law enforcement accompanying a so-called ‘National Special Security Event.’ Access to the downtown area near the David Lawrence Convention Center is already congested—adding 2,000 National Guard soldiers to the 4,000-officer police force increases the chance that protesters will suffer injury from law enforcement and military. Add the use of less-lethal munitions, horses, motorcycles, and it’s a recipe for disaster. We must avoid a repeat of the April 2009 G-20 in London, and the 2001 G-8 in Genoa, each of which resulted in the death of a protester.”
The National Lawyers Guild is a progressive bar association, founded in 1937, with chapters in every state. Its national mass defense program includes education about laws and practices that affect individuals engaging in dissent, criminal defense of protesters and civil litigation to curb unconstitutional police practices, and its Legal Observer® program. The Guild operates a national hotline, 888-NLG-ECOL (888-654-3465) for individuals who have been targeted by the FBI for their associational activities, including animal welfare and environmental rights activists. Educational resources for activists are available on the Guild’s website, www.nlg.org, including Punishing Protest, Operation Backfire: A Survival Guild for Environmental and Animal Rights Activists, and The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly and Dissent.