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Upholding Rights at May Day Demonstrations

More than 200 people were arrested during Inauguration Day protests in Washington. (VOA/Wikimedia Commons)
More than 200 people were arrested during Inauguration Day protests in Washington. (VOA/Wikimedia Commons)
May 1, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. – With May Day demonstrations taking place in cities across the country Monday, the National Lawyers Guild is fielding on-the-ground legal support in case of arrests.

Organizers are calling it a national day of protest against Trump administration policies on everything from the environment to immigration.

Local chapters of the National Lawyers Guild have been holding "know your rights" and Legal Observer training in more than a dozen cities coast to coast.

King Downing, the National Lawyers Guild's mass-defense director, says the message the guild wants 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," he states.

The National Lawyers Guild's know-your-rights booklet is available online in five languages.

Police contend that they only make arrests when protesters disobey the law.

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

"Several hundred people were kettled and rounded up,” he recalls. “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 – remarks Downing found 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 stats.

Downing adds that in many cities there is an NLG arrest hotline, and he urges those participating in May Day protests to write that number on their arms in case they are arrested.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA