NLG Press Release 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                              July 22, 2001

 
Contacts:   Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director, 212-627-2656, ext. 11
                 Bruce Nestor, President, 319-351-4567
                 Zak Wolfe, National VP and Mass Defense Committee, 202-530-5992
 
NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD CONDEMNS USE OF LIVE AMMUNITION
AGAINST DEMONSTRATORS AT G8 SUMMIT IN GENOA, ITALY
 
The National Lawyers Guild has monitored and documented an escalation in the United States
government's, and now international governments', militarization of force against protestors
 in the anti-globalization movement
 
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns the use of live ammunition against protesters at the Group of Eight (G8) Summit being held in Genoa, Italy on July 20-22, 2001.  Guild President Bruce Nestor notes that "The killing by police on July 20 of Carlo Giuliani was the inevitable result of an increasing willingness to use excessive force as part of a broad denial of democratic participation in the global decision making process.  Since the first worldwide mass demonstration against corporate power at the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle in 1999, the Guild has defended protestors whose First Amendment rights were violated, provided legal observers, and filed lawsuits challenging the government's excessive use of force as well as its pre-emptive tactics to curb individuals' First Amendment rights."
 
Founded in 1937, the National Lawyers Guild currently consists of over 6,000 lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers working in the service of the people to the end that human rights are more sacred than property interests.
 
The overwhelming number of demonstrators at these mass demonstrations are engaged in peaceful, non-violent protest.  The appropriate and legal response to potential and actual violence is to guarantee an adequate police presence and to arrest any protestors who engage in violent conduct. (Collins v. Jordan, 9th Cir. 1997).  The recent killing of a protestor is an inevitable consequence of  the use of "collective punishment" by police against large numbers of political demonstrators, rather than enforcement of the law while protecting the right to speak as the Constitution demands.  In the United States, this collective punishment has thus far taken the form of chemical weapons and less-lethal rounds fired into crowds; but anything that causes someone to fear engaging in speech because of possible punishment for someone else's acts is profoundly dangerous to the proper functioning of any democracy.
 
The suppression of legitimate First Amendment activities by legions of police and government agents suited in riot gear and engaging in para-military tactics not only has a terrifying effect on demonstrators but also perpetuates an atmosphere of violence.  Such tactics are self-defeating in that they not only frighten protestors, but also make young and inexperienced police officers more nervous, the likely result being the loss of human life.
 
The Guild has documented an escalation in police violence and unconstitutional tactics, and has filed suit against the following unconstitutional acts by government in mass demonstrations since 1999:
 
 Indiscriminate use of excessive force including pain compliance holds, the use of pepper spray, tear gas and concussion grenades, and the firing of rubber bullets against hundreds of peaceful protestors at the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle, and documented detention of protestors without access to counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment, and without prompt processing for bail
 
 "Preemptive strikes" including unjust and pre-textual arrests by police at the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) protests in April 200 in Washington D.C. in which police raided people's homes in the middle of the night, arrested suspected protest 'leaders' and detained them overnight with no probable cause, and shut down a central meeting place while confiscating literature, signs and banners--materials clearly protected by the First Amendment--as well as medical supplies.
 
 Creation of a chilling effect, at all of these major demonstrations, on the expression of political views by closing streets and public sidewalks and making them open only to people with acceptable identification.  Police stood on rooftops with video cameras and officers wandered the area taking still photographs and videos of people in the areas, even those not attempting to enter police restricted zones.  Anyone wearing buttons or carryings signs were given especially close scrutiny.
 
 Criminalization of lawful dissent at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August 2000 by threatening peaceful protestors with prosecution for conspiracy and terrorism to impact other legitimate First Amendment activities; mistreatment of arrested protestors by hog-tying rather than handcuffing, denying medications, food and water in an effort to demoralize the group's efforts to maintain jail solidarity; charging protestors engaged in non-violent civil disobedience with misdemeanor offenses, a deviation from the traditional practice of charging such activity as a summary offense entailing no incarceration; and, setting excessive and extraordinary bail of $1 million for misdemeanors.
 
The National Lawyers Guild has been in the service of political activists for over sixty years, offering legal advice and pursuing litigation when necessary.  "The Constitution cannot be suspended during mass demonstrations," said NLG executive director Heidi Boghosian.  "The Guild will continue to work to ensure that people continue to own the public spaces in this country and continue to have the right to express their political views."
 
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