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RI National Lawyers Guild condemns police violence and the arrest of an NLG legal observer

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After Providence Police arrived to further escalate the confrontation, indiscriminate arrests were made of anyone nearby, whether they had engaged in unlawful activity or not, including a Legal Observer, Chloe Davis, medics, and bystanders. Chloe was thrown to the ground without warning, destroying her eyeglasses. She was incarcerated overnight at the Providence Police station for no reason other than volunteering to watch over protesters wishing to voice their concerns against police violence.


The Rhode Island Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) strongly condemns all attacks on Legal Observers and urges state and local governments, police chiefs, and police unions both to advise their officers that attacks on Legal Observers are not tolerated, and also to swiftly investigate any incident involving the detention or use of force against a Legal Observer.

As demonstrators across the country seek an end to police violence, including the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others, residents of Providence, Rhode Island took to the streets on the nights of October 20th, 21st, and 23rd to express their outrage at the Providence Police Department following an incident that left Jhamal Gonsalves, a young man of color, in a coma. Protesters are demanding accountability for Officer Kyle Endres, whose police cruiser impacted Gonsalves’ moped, along with calls for racial justice and reallocating money from policing to meet community needs (housing, medical care, education, food, etc.). The Providence External Review Authority (PERA) has begun an independent investigation, while Attorney General Peter Neronha and the Providence Police Department continue their own inquiries.

Over the past few nights, protestors, medics, and a Legal Observer were arrested by Providence Police and other law enforcement agencies. Some of those arrested suffered serious injuries, including one person who was hospitalized on October 20th. The Rhode Island Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns police violence and the Providence Police Department’s arrest of a Legal Observer at the protest on the evening of October 21st.

On that night, protestors marched for over an hour without incident, until Cranston Police created a confrontation with protestors by blockading Elmwood Avenue with numerous police cruisers. After Providence Police arrived to further escalate the confrontation, indiscriminate arrests were made of anyone nearby, whether they had engaged in unlawful activity or not, including a Legal Observer, Chloe Davis, medics, and bystanders. Chloe was thrown to the ground without warning, destroying her eyeglasses. She was incarcerated overnight at the Providence Police station for no reason other than volunteering to watch over protesters wishing to voice their concerns against police violence.

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The Rhode Island Chapter of the NLG frequently sends Legal Observers to local protests. As third-party observers, their primary role is to observe law enforcement actions including documenting arrests, use of force, intimidating display of force, denial of access to public spaces like parks and sidewalks, and any other behavior on the part of law enforcement that appears to restrict demonstrators’ ability to express their political views. Legal Observers also inform protesters of their constitutional rights, gather evidence, take witness statements, and connect those who are arrested with legal assistance. Legal Observers undergo training and are often, but not always, lawyers, law students, and legal workers. Legal Observers attend protests when asked to do so, but are not active participants in demonstrations. They can be easily identified by their distinctive neon green hats that read “National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer.” The NLG Legal Observer program has a long tradition of ensuring that protesters are able to express their constitutional rights and was first established in 1968 in New York City in response to police violence against protesters at Columbia University and at antiwar and civil rights demonstrations. Up until the incident on October 21st, Legal Observers, including Chloe, have observed countless protests without any direct confrontations with police officers, including Providence Police.

The National Lawyers Guild, whose membership includes lawyers, legal workers, jailhouse lawyers, and law students, was formed in 1937 as the United States’ first racially-integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.

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