NLG to Protect First Amendment at RNC and DNC

August 21, 2012
Nathan Tempey
(347) 792-3092

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is preparing to mount a massive legal support effort for protesters at the Republican and Democratic national conventions (RNC and DNC).

“The host cities of Tampa and Charlotte are greeting party politicians and their corporate backers with open arms,” said NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian. “City leaders and law enforcement agencies seem reluctant to do the same for the thousands who will come to exercise their First Amendment rights, but we stand ready to defend those rights with all the legal tools at our disposal.”

NLG members from across the South and around the country will converge in both cities, forming volunteer teams that will keep Legal Observers® on the ground to monitor police conduct, staff 24-hour legal help hotlines, and respond to legal emergencies as they arise. In Tampa the NLG hotline will be 813-241-0101, in Charlotte it will be 704-372-4200.

Restrictive event ordinances in both Tampa and Charlotte promise to sow confusion during the conventions. The NLG maintains that these laws impose unconstitutional restrictions on fundamental rights and seek to criminalize dissent by exposing protesters and members of the public to such practices as searches without cause, setting the stage for selective and mass arrests. Both conventions are National Special Security Events (NSSE), which means that the United States Secret Service is in charge of event security in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal and local agencies.

Past NSSEs have seen police attack protesters and bystanders using so-called less-lethal weapons including rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades, tear gas, pepper-spray, and Long-Range Acoustic Device sound cannons. Other law enforcement tactics have included trap and arrest, indiscriminate mass arrests, and the aggressive use of paid informants to infiltrate and disrupt protest groups.

Boghosian continued, “The millions of dollars that have been recovered for constitutional violations at past NSSEs and the small number of convictions demonstrate that the true motive of the government is to stifle legitimate dissent.”

The RNC and DNC come on the heels of the Occupy movement and the May NATO summit protests, which together saw over 7,000 protesters arrested, and countless more beaten, surveilled, and otherwise harassed by law enforcement. NLG members continue to handle a majority of those criminal cases and to pursue related civil litigation in several cities.

Established over 40 years ago, the NLG’s mass defense committee provides education, criminal defense, and civil litigation to curb unconstitutional police practices at protests. An integral part of the committee’s work is the NLG Legal Observer® program which sends trained lawyers, law students, and legal workers to watch for police misconduct and rights infringements.

Founded in 1937, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar association. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has members in every state.