2017: A Busy Year for NLG Mass Defense

By Jude Ortiz, Chair, NLG Mass Defense Committee, King Downing, NLG Director of Mass Defense

Following a strong year’s end of mass defense support for Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock pipeline encampments, and presidential primary/post-election protests, NLG mass defense efforts surged into 2017.

While the above issues continue to receive NLG mass defense attention, this is a brief update on the first two major 2017 actions to receive Guild attention: the inauguration protests and actions at airports and elsewhere in response to the Trump executive order against immigrants.

Inauguration protest plans in the early stages were focused on DC: J20 actions against the installation of Trump as president, and the national Women’s March, less directly, but clearly, aimed at the new regime. The Guild began by joining the legal support planning for both actions, and it became clear that not only would both DC actions be large, but that large support actions would happen in cities across the country.

To plan for DC, parallel meetings were held with the DC chapter and their allies, including the main convener Disrupt J20, and between the chapter and legal reps for the Women’s March. A call was put out for legal observers (LOs), jail support and DC barred lawyers: 250 people responded. The Guild organized LOs, lawyers and the arrest hotline, while the Law4BlackLives DC handled jail support. Because a crush of LOs was needed, especially for the Women’s March (predicted attendance then topped 100,000), an LO training webinar was held, as well as a series of live trainings in DC. Law students attended in overflow numbers.

On Inauguration Day in DC, a half-dozen groups blockaded inauguration parade entrances, with LO teams at each site. LOs also covered splinter events and marches, including the notorious police kettle at 12th and L. Without the required warning, police held people for hours, arresting over 220 people, at first at the rate of one person each 15 minutes.  Protesters, journalists, bystanders and five LOs were arrested and grossly overcharged with felony riot. To date four journalists, four LOs and several others have had cases dismissed. However, more than 200 people could still be formally charged with felony riot. The DC chapter released an FAQ for arrestees, and is working on a meeting of the defense lawyers. Defendants are organizing themselves to strategize around their cases, and the Guild is supporting the effort. There is also call for court solidarity with the upcoming court dates.

The DC Women’s March and its sister marches across the country were massive, but uneventful from a mass defense perspective. NLG chapters across the country provided LO coverage. Guild support at J20 and Women’s’ March events included: Denver, Buffalo, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, Bellingham (WA), Boston, Albany, Washington DC, Atlanta, Birmingham, New York City, Madison (WI), Des Moines, Traverse City (MI), and Ypsilanti (MI), Chicago, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe.

Without missing a beat, NLG chapters were back in the streets with the airport protesters across the country in the wake of the Trump Muslim ban executive order. As actions sprang up across the country, complaints were filed in multiple jurisdictions, a refusal to litigate letter was released from the then-acting US attorney general and a letter of protest from 16 state attorneys general supported our position that the order violated due process, equal protection and the separation of powers doctrine. The Guild dispatched lawyers to monitor detained immigrants, and LOs and lawyers to watch police at the airports and other locations and stand by for arrests. Guild chapters that provided support included: Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis, Boise, Birmingham, Boston, Albany, Minneapolis, Detroit, Phoenix, New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, Detroit, Hamtramck (MI-the only US city with a majority Muslim city council), Denver, Albuquerque, and Newark.

The J20 actions, airport protests and Women’s Marches in DC and across the country were large and intense. Many LO teams were sent out, mostly without incident. Solving the mass defense logistics of these large consecutive national DC protests, with simultaneous, equally large actions in other cities, has been valuable prep for the nonstop actions we will likely see over the next four years.

We expect the protests to increase in size, frequency and intensity, reminiscent of 1968, when the Mass Defense Committee began. We ask you to support these and future actions:

  • Show solidarity with J20 arrestees: Attend the court dates for DC arrestees and/or those arrested in other cities.
  • Donate to the NLG Mass Defense effort, to DC J20 legal support, or local efforts in your area
  • Join or renew your Guild membership
  • Volunteer in support of the Guild chapter in your area