BUFFALO – The Buffalo Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Mayor Byron Brown, Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood, and Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen today, demanding the end of police harassment of Legal Observers at demonstrations. The call follows the detention of a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer at a protest in downtown Buffalo on Wednesday, June 17.
Drew Friedfertig, who uses they/them pronouns, was detained by Buffalo police officers while clearly identified as a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer on duty. Friedfertig was wearing a neon green hat, which the National Lawyers Guild has used to identify legal observers for decades, and explained to officers that they were a legal observer. Officers took Friedfertig’s phone and notes, which are considered privileged materials. After Friedfertig was released, they were told by police officers to not return to the protest area for the rest of the day.
"We can only surmise that the actions of Buffalo police officers in detaining and searching Drew Friedfertig were calculated to chill the constitutionally-protected activities of Drew, other Legal Observers and Protest Monitors, and of those persons engaging in protest against racialized police brutality in our city,” said Heidi Jones, attorney at the National Lawyers Guild. “Police across the country have started targeting Legal Observers and Protest Monitors for detention, arrest, and harassment, and Buffalo's mayor, Common Council and police leadership should not tolerate this unconstitutional behavior from its officers. We are undeterred from protecting protesters' constitutional rights."
“There is a reason that the activity of legal observers is constitutionally protected: they play a crucial role in demonstrations to monitor, document, and report police misconduct,” said John A. Curr III, Director of the Western Regional Chapter at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The Buffalo Police Department’s brazen harassment of a legal observer is a part of a disturbing pattern of police violence and impunity that must end now.”
The letter demands:
- An immediate end to police harassment of Legal Observers and Protest Monitors;
- An Order from the Police Commissioner to the Buffalo Police Department that Legal Observers and Protest Monitors not be interrogated, detained, or interfered with, unless there is probably cause for arrest;
- Discipline for the officer who violated Friedfertig’s Fourth Amendment rights; and
- The release of the video footage of the incident to the National Lawyers Guild and the NYCLU.
The incident comes after two weeks of daily protests in Buffalo, including a demonstration on June 4 when police officers pushed 75-year-old protester Martin Gugino to the ground, resulting in a fractured skull. Reports of police harassment of Legal Observers have surfaced across the state, including in New York City where officers were heard calling to round up “all the green hats.”
A full copy of the letter is available at https://www.nyclu.org/en/publications/nyclu-and-nlg-letter-buffalo-leaders-police-treatment-legal-observers.
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