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Legal Observers to Attend May Day Protests

The National Lawyers Guild has conducted "know your rights" training in cities across the country. (Peter Burka/Flickr)
The National Lawyers Guild has conducted "know your rights" training in cities across the country. (Peter Burka/Flickr)
May 1, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. -- May Day demonstrations will take place in cities across the country Monday, and the National Lawyers Guild is fielding on-the-ground legal support in case of arrests.

Organizers have called it a national day of protest against Trump administration policies on everything from the environment to immigration. And local chapters of the National Lawyers Guild have been holding "know your rights" and Legal Observer trainings in more than a dozen cities coast to coast.

King Downing, the Guild's mass-defense director, said the message they want protesters to hear is simple.

"You have the absolute right to do this, and don't let any change in climate intimidate you from going out there as an individual or as an organization or as a coalition,” Downing said.

The National Lawyers Guild's know-your-rights booklet is available online in five languages. Police have said that they only make arrests when protesters disobey the law.

But protest organizers say experience tells a different story. As an example, Downing pointed to events he witnessed at the Inauguration Day protests in Washington in January.

"Several hundred people were kettled and rounded up,” he said. "Bystanders, even journalists, are not free from risk of arrest for covering First Amendment activities."

More than 200 people were arrested in protests that day.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of all agreements between the Justice Department and police departments aimed at curbing police abuse, saying such oversight is not the federal government's responsibility. Downing said he finds those remarks troubling.

"The attorney general's remarks in favor of police may be giving them a sense of a green light to go ahead and act beyond their normal scope of abuse,” he said.

Downing added that in many cities there is an N.L.G. arrest hotline, and he urged those participating in May Day protests to write that number on their arms in case they are arrested.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT