NLG Calls on DC Prosecutors to Drop All Charges against J20 Demonstrators, Legal Observers and Journalists


February 2, 2017

Contact: Tasha Moro, NLG Communications Director
(212) 679-5100, ext. 15 |

NEW YORK—The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls on prosecutors to drop all remaining charges against the 200+ demonstrators, Legal Observers (LOs) and members of the press who were arrested on Friday, January 20, after thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of the nation’s capital to protest the Inauguration of Donald Trump.

A total of 222 people were arrested under felony “incitement to riot” charges that carry  the possibility of ten years of incarceration and a fine of $25,000 if convicted.  Since then, prosecutors have dropped the charges against four journalists; however, two journalists still face felony charges, along with all the demonstrators and Legal Observers who were arrested. “We deploy our LOs to observe and document police violence; like journalists and bystanders, they are not themselves part of the protest. On January 20th, not only did our LOs observe police violence against demonstrators, journalists, and passersby, but they experienced it themselves, firsthand. The prosecutor’s office must drop all the charges stemming from J20, brought against 200+ people, immediately,” said NLG DC member Maggie Ellinger-Locke.

Breaking with the last decade of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) practice, police “kettled” (i.e. indiscriminately surrounded and arrested) a group of people at 12th and L St. NW in violation of DC Code § 5–331.07, which prohibits mass arrests and requires law enforcement to give dispersal warnings. MPD also needlessly deployed tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and batons. Despite the media’s focus on isolated incidents of property destruction, MPD indiscriminately targeted people for arrest en masse based on location alone. Solo practitioner and NLG member Jeffrey Light brought a lawsuit against the MPD for their actions that day.

In preparation for J20, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) DC Chapter trained and deployed hundreds of Legal Observers, ran a legal support hotline and partnered with jail support groups to arrange for jail visits and the legal defense of arrested protesters. Since 1968, the NLG has deployed LOs to demonstrations at the request of organizers, as part of a comprehensive system of legal support designed to enable people to express their political views as fully as possible without unconstitutional disruption or interference by the police. As DC NLG attorney Mark Goldstone explained, “Legal Observers have historically played a critical role in observing and documenting interactions between protesters and police at political protests. Unless they are directly engaged in unlawful conduct, it is a direct attack on precious First Amendment rights to arrest Legal Observers.”

There is no doubt that this repression represents a larger strategy by the State to quell dissent. Anti-protest bills have been proposed in 10 states, and seek to criminalize First Amendment activity, while Trump’s recently signed executive order on immigration (commonly referred to as the “Muslim ban”) also directly threatens First and Fourth Amendment rights. Continuing in the spirit of our last 80 years, the NLG will continue to fight against repression and for the people’s right to dissent.

DisruptJ20 is collecting contributions to help cover arrestees’ legal fees. Donate at

Update 2/3/17: Sign the petition calling for the charges to be dropped at

The National Lawyers Guild, whose membership includes lawyers, legal workers, jailhouse lawyers, and law students, was formed in 1937 as the United States’ first racially-integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.

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