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News :: Organizing : Police and Prisons : Politics : Race
Legal Support Needed at the RNC in Cleveland
29 Mar 2016
The 2016 Republican National Convention is being held in Cleveland July 18 - 21. This one's going to be a little different.
Unlike at many previous RNCs and other similar events there are no explicitly radical actions planned. Nothing like the protests at the 2008 RNC or 2009 G-20 meetings is in the works. However, this convention promises to be a fiasco for all new reasons, mostly related to Donald Trump. As has been widely reported, Trump is running a deeply reactionary campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, complete with support from a resurgent Ku Klux Klan. Not surprisingly, this has led to increasingly intense protests at his campaign appearances. Anti-Trump protesters have blocked highways in Arizona, clashed with the candidate's supporters in Salt Lake City, and forced cancellation of a Trump rally in Chicago. Trump has encouraged violence against protesters, even briefly offering to pay the legal expenses of one follower who was arrested for punching a protester at a rally. A pro-Trump group has sprung up calling themselves "The Lions Guard", a reference to a Mussolini quote recently repeated by Trump. Their stated purpose is to infiltrate protest organizing via social media (bad enough!), but numerous posts on their blog have advocated violence against protesters.

Then there are the Cleveland police, who have received widespread condemnation for the drive-by murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and the execution of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell in a barrage of 137 shots. These incidents are not just flukes. The Cleveland Division of Police has a long history of brutality and racism, and is currently operating under a consent decree with the US Department of Justice. The CDP has recently been taking a much harder line with protesters, kettling and arresting over 70 activists without an audible dispersal warning at a July demonstration.

All this threatens to come to a head at the RNC. Trump's followers are expected to flood the city, especially if he doesn't achieve a clear delegate majority and the convention has to be brokered. The Cleveland police, whose numbers will be augmented by as many as 5,000 outside cops, can be counted on to back up the Republican invaders at the expense of locals, especially given Trump's vocal support of police officers. Cleveland residents, the majority of whom are people of color, will be caught in the middle, especially if they choose to exercise their First Amendment right to protest. And just to make things even more interesting, the city is allowing the bars to stay open until four in the morning throughout the convention.

The result is likely to be widespread conflict in the streets, accompanied by mass arrests and violations of civil liberties. Facing down this perfect storm are two scrappy but under-resourced organizations, Cleveland Action and the Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. The NLG has the responsibility for fielding legal observers to record police activity, both at protests and during random interactions with police. Their notes are often crucial when defending protesters in court against fabricated police testimony. Cleveland Action has taken on the task of setting up a jail and court support operation to track arrestees through the legal process. This will include a hot line number people can call from jail, a bail fund, a jail vigil to support arrestees as they are released, and much more.

With the convention less than four months away, preparations are only just beginning. This year's mideast region NLG conference, held at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University the weekend of March 19 - 20, featured visitors from Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere. Panelists discussed the intricacies of defending protesters in court, the dismal history of attempts to reform the CDP, and police behavior at recent protests, among other topics. Legal observer and jail support trainings were also offered. During the course of the conference one thing became glaringly obvious: These folks are going to need a lot of help. Jocelyn Rosnick, co-coordinator of the Ohio NLG, estimated that at least 100 legal observers would be needed, most of whom will have to be recruited. Parts of the jail support infrastructure are in place, but personnel to operate it are scarce. And the bail fund is starting nearly from scratch.

Money and volunteers are sorely needed. Supporters are urged to donate to the bail fund, and to travel to Cleveland for the convention to legal observe or help with jail support. Please fill out this form if you plan on attending the convention. Please note that trainings in legal observing and jail support will be held in Cleveland leading up to the convention.

This work is in the public domain.
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