On Tuesday night, over 40 people gathered in a Yale Law School lecture room to receive training to serve as legal observers during protests and demonstrations in the Elm City and beyond.
The training, organized by the Yale Law School branch of the National Law Guild — a nationwide progressive bar association — sought to prepare attendees to serve as legal observers, individuals who attend demonstrations as impartial monitors of police activity. Students as well as community members spent the evening learning the techniques of observing and the rights of demonstrators who face arrest or aggression from law enforcement.
“There have been situations in New Haven when protesters have been attacked,” said Kerry Ellington, founder of People Against Police Brutality, a grassroots activist group. “And protesters’ rights get violated all the time.”
Ellington and prominent New Haven activist Barbara Fair began the event by sharing firsthand experiences of navigating police presence at demonstrations, stressing the importance of legal observers today. Both are involved in efforts to mitigate police brutality in Connecticut.
Throughout the training, participants learned how legal observers can defend the rights and safety of activists by diligently observing and documenting the activity of law enforcement during a demonstration. Though legal observers are not granted any additional rights while serving in this capacity, their testimony can be used to defend protesters in the case of arrest.
Event organizer Steffi Ostrowski LAW ’21 hoped that the training would help foster a partnership between the legal community and local activists.
“As a Yale community, and particularly the law school, we are often very isolated from the broader New Haven community,” Ostrowski said. “I think this is a great way to help law students be partners with local community activism.”
By partnering with groups such as the Yale LGBTQ student organization OutLaws, the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association and the Latinx Law Students Association, the Yale National Law Guild group hoped to attract attendees from across the Yale and New Haven community who were interested in serving as legal observers.
Attendees interviewed by the News expressed a desire to use the skills to contribute to social movements in New Haven and beyond. Laurie Sweet, a Hampden resident, was inspired to become a legal observer from her previous experiences in political activism.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of rallies before, and I think that this is a really amazing opportunity to help in a different way,” Sweet said.
This sentiment was echoed by Sanjayan Rajasingham LAW ’19 who was also attended the training. After being involved in activist work in his native country of Sri Lanka, Rajasingham wanted to learn more about social movements within the United States.
Ostrowski hoped that participants would come away from the workshop with the skills necessary to serve as legal observers as well as a deeper understanding of community activism in New Haven.
“If the participants take away one thing, I would hope it would be a better knowledge of the breadth of activism that is happening in New Haven without any Yale involvement,” Ostrowski said. “I hope people leave feeling inspired by the work that is happening and feeling convicted that we need to support the New Haven community.”
The National Law Guild was founded in 1937.
Elizabeth Hopkinson | firstname.lastname@example.org