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Lawyer group stands watch during Chicago protests

September 2, 2018

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago’s anti-violence protesters are getting silent support from about 100 lawyers with green hats.

The city’s “Legal Observers” are trained volunteers whose job is to watch police during a protest, record any civil liberty violations and serve “as a deterrent to unconstitutional behavior.” The lawyers are part of the National Lawyers Guild, an organization of progressive lawyers that was founded as a counterweight to the American Bar Association, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The Legal Observer program is also a byproduct of the police beatings of protesters and bystanders during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the most infamous use of force against a political demonstration in Chicago history.

“I think of Legal Observers as the unsung heroes of American democracy,” said L.A. Kauffman, a longtime activist. “In an ideal world, authorities are there to watch your First Amendment rights, which sometimes happens. But over and over, police adopt a repressive role. I’ve been an organizer since the early ’80s — you see green hats you know they’ll help to de-escalate any tensions.”

Legal Observers take notes on intimidating behavior and perceived abuses of power, look for names of protesters being arrested, serve as eyewitnesses for potential civil or criminal trials that arise out of a protest arrest.

The lawyers donned green hats recently in August as organizers of an anti-violence march prepared to shut Lake Shore Drive. They’ve said their goal is passive and to serve as a silent reminder to police that a lawyer is present.

“It might seem unnecessary in the days of cellphone cameras, but that second set of eyes serving as witness, acting as a neutral party. It’s comforting to know they’re there,” said Andy Thayer of the Chicago Committee Against War and Racism. “I mean, I’ve had situations where police want to take you aside to talk to you, and ... I want them to do it out in the open, where someone in a green hat can monitor what police are doing and saying.”

The local Fraternal Order of Police declined to comment. A Chicago police spokesman said the department protects First Amendment rights “and makes every effort to support the safety of those expressing their rights.”

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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