The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the nation’s first racially integrated bar association, is, and has been, providing several forms of legal support to protesters in Ferguson and throughout the nation since the shooting death of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown. Recently, the NLG rapidly increased their capacity to provide legal support in Ferguson, marshaling teams of lawyers, legal workers and law students, and is preparing for the continued need for volunteers and resources.
The NLG helped to establish the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee (FLDC), which, has been instrumental in coordinating the effort to monitor police activity in Ferguson.
“Guild members, both locally and from out of town, came together and trained more than 200 Legal Observers, conducted numerous Know Your Rights trainings, and helped form a local legal collective to staff a hotline, track people through the legal system, bond arrestees out as needed, and find legal representation for protesters,” said NLG Legal Worker vice president Kris Hermes, who is on the ground in Ferguson coordinating the NLG’s legal efforts.
Legal observers, in their trademark bright green hats, have an immediate impact during a protest, putting pressure on the police who are aware their activities are being watched and documented. However, the type of legal support the NLG provides extends beyond just watching the police; they also assist protesters who have been arrested by facilitating bonds for release from jail, defending them in criminal court and/or representing their interests in civil court. Hermes said, “Making sure that people are able to remain in the streets protesting against police brutality is critically important.”
Fighting against police brutality has proved to be a difficult task, and the actions of the city officials point to this fact. The NLG, in a statement released after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, said, “Given Gov. Jay Nixon’s preemptive ‘state of emergency,’ deployment of the National Guard, and FAA ‘no-fly zone’ declarations, the government’s intent to squash dissent in Ferguson is clear.” In the course of observing the police during the protests in Ferguson, and throughout the country, NLG Legal Observers have been welcomed by the protesters and have often faced resistance from the police and city officials, some even subjected to arrest on the street.
The struggle against police brutality is growing more intense and that means even more legal observers and legal support for protesters are needed. On an on going basis the NLG trains legal workers, law students and lawyers, in local chapters all around the country, to serve in their legal observer program. To ensure that legal observers can monitor police activity, it is imperative that protesters reach out to organizations like the NLG to let them know when and where protests will take place.
Protests against police brutality around the country are on the rise and so will be the need for coordinated and effective legal support that stands on the side of the people in Ferguson and elsewhere.
The New York City chapter of the NLG issued a statement strongly condemning the non-indictment of the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man suspected of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, using an unsanctioned chokehold. “As a former NYS Supreme Court judge it is disheartening to know that in our system of justice a man can be strangled in the street and there are no consequences to the perpetrators,” said retired New York judge and NLG-NYC board member Emily Jane Goodman.
It is becoming harder and harder for the public to ignore the failure to indict white police officers for the killing of an unarmed Black men, the legal support in the U.S. justice system for police officers is clear. But many have began to ask, “who provides legal support to the demonstrators speaking out against racist policing and police brutality?” Just as the National Lawyers Guild stood with the Communists against the oppression of McCarthyism, the NLG is standing with communities of color and victims of police brutality around the country. To find out more about the NLG or provide support to their efforts, visit nlg.org.
Photo: Kathy Willens/AP