Charlotte School of Law students and Civil Rights Clinic members, led by student Brandy Hagler, are serving as National lawyers Guild Legal Observers during the DNC. Marked by their trademark neon green hats, Legal Observers are neutral third party observers that attend gatherings and protests in order to gather evidence during police/protester interaction. Dozens of students have volunteered to take to the streets along with experienced Observers from across North Carolina and beyond.
Legal Observers serve to protect the First Amendment by ensuring that any arrests or police abuses are thoroughly documented through notes, photographs and videos. In the event that criminal charges are brought against the arrestee or a civil suit is filed against the officer, the information gathered by the Legal Observers becomes critical evidence that can be determinative in the outcome of the case. Anytime a Legal Observer witnesses an arrest, he immediately contacts a local NLG office. This ensures that all arrests are documented and no one gets lost in the system without representation.
But the task of keeping track of arrests doesn’t only fall to the Legal Observers. Seasoned activists are familiar with the NLG’s history of protecting their First Amendment rights and help to ensure that all arrestees are accounted for. If activists witness an arrest, they will often contact the local NLG office on their own. They may also use their free phone call to contact the NLG office if they themselves are arrested.
The Legal Observer program has been active in Charlotte since late last year, at the start of the Occupy Charlotte movement. It became apparent that the program would be a necessity in the coming months. Recent CharlotteLaw grad Isaac Sturgill founded the local Legal Observer program and established CharlotteLaw’s student chapter of the NLG. The first test of the new Legal Observer team came in January of this year, when Occupy Charlotte was evicted from the lawn of Old City Hall. CharlotteLaw students acting as NLG Legal Observers were also present at the Bank of America and Duke Energy shareholder meetings, the first two events encompassed by the City’s new extraordinary event ordinances.
Since then, CharlotteLaw student Brandy Hagler has taken the reigns and built the local chapter into something great. With mere months before the DNC, Brandy took the lead in recruiting Legal Observers, establishing two temporary NLG offices, gathering supplies, finding housing for out-of-town NLG members, finding local attorneys willing to represent protesters, and generally ironing out all the kinks that come along with building an organization to monitor an event as massive as the DNC. Thanks to Brandy, Charlotte School of Law students, and the Civil Rights Clinic, Legal Observers are on the streets ensuring that protesters can demonstrate in peace, without police interference or abuse.