The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) will be providing legal support to protesters throughout the course of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Undoubtedly the most visible part of this effort will be our teams of trained Legal Observers® (LOs), who will attend demonstrations across Tampa and Charlotte carrying notebooks and sporting bright green caps. These observers have become a common sight at protests over the past few decades, but we often hear questions about their role, so we figured we'd explain the basics here.
What LOs are for:
- Monitoring and helping to curb unconstitutional police practices while enabling people to express their views as fully as possible.
What LOs do:
- Observe and document law enforcement interactions with demonstrators, especially arrests, instances of excessive force and abuse of authority, and practices such as kettling and mass arrests.
What LOs don't do:
- Provide legal advice to demonstrators.
- Act as police liaisons, demonstration marshals, or peacekeepers.
The NLG established the Legal Observer® program in 1968 in response to protests at New York's Columbia University and citywide anti-war and civil rights demonstrations. That same year, NLG member students organized to defend protesters swept up in mass arrests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. NLG members now provide protest legal support by request in cities and towns around the country.
LOs are typically, but not exclusively, law students, legal workers, and lawyers who may or may not be licensed locally. LOs are trained and directed by Guild lawyers, who often have established attorney-client relationships with activist organizations or are engaged in litigation challenging police actions around mass assemblies.