By Benjamin Nelson, NLG-Buffalo Chapter
The Buffalo, NY Chapter of the NLG enjoyed its busiest legal observing period for years in March and April 2016.
A Legal Observer (LO) training was held Saturday, April 16, in anticipation of demonstrations and arrests at a Donald Trump rally in downtown Buffalo on April 18. At the rally itself, a dozen LOs, experienced and novice alike, were a highly visible and (according to demonstrators’ comments afterward) reassuring presence. LOs documented the conduct of hundreds of law enforcement officers from close to 10 different agencies, who put on a coordinated show of force not seen in Buffalo in years.
An April 19 article in The Nation, “Hate Is Not Welcome Here,” described how demonstrators in Buffalo successfully countered Trump’s message, quoting a local activist: “People were engaged in civil disobedience and actually putting their bodies on the line to change things. This puts Buffalo in connection with the rest of the country, connected to all of our allies across the country.” Two demonstrators at the event were arrested and charged with trespass and disorderly conduct. Their pro bono defense lawyers, aided by a public defender (and NLG member), succeeded in having all charges dismissed at the first court appearance.
Also during March and April, NLG LOs have been a regular presence at a series of actions held in Buffalo to protest the abysmal record of inmate mistreatment and human rights violations at the Erie County Holding Center, one of the largest pre-trial detention facilities in New York State. The still-unexplained death in February of India Cummings, a 26-year-old woman who was booked into the Holding Center while suffering mental health issues, has sparked renewed efforts by local activists to hold prison administrators, law enforcement, and local government accountable for their actions. Four activists were arrested and charged with trespass at a March 18 action demanding accountability from Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard and County Executive Mark Poloncarz. They continue to defend against those charges, but have not been dissuaded from organizing around this issue. Demonstrations, including acts of civil disobedience, are expected to continue, and NLG LOs will continue to support them.
The Buffalo chapter wishes to thank other NLG members who have helped it build its LO presence this year, especially NLG Mass Defense Director King Downing and Jacqueline Greene of NLG Ohio. We also received valuable support in training and observing from members of the Black Movement-Law Project and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Above all, we thank the demonstrators and organizers whose work we support, including but not limited to members of the Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition, Just Resisting, Showing Up for Racial Justice, the United Melanin Society, and the Western New York Peace Center.