NLG Observes Improper Use of Force by Law Enforcement

National Lawyers Guild Observes Improper Use of Force by Law Enforcement

For Immediate Release-September 25, 2009

Contact: Paige Cram, Communications Coordinator, 609-668-0645

Pittsburgh-National Lawyers Guild members witnessed first-hand yesterday the unwarranted display and use of force by police in residential neighborhoods, often far from any protest activity.

Police deployed chemical irritants, including CS gas, and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) in residential neighborhoods on narrow streets where families and small children were exposed. Scores of riot police formed barricades at many intersections throughout neighborhoods miles away from the downtown area and the David Lawrence Convention Center. Outside the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside, police deployed smoke bombs in the absence of protest activity, forcing bystanders and hotel residents to flee the area.

Later, while some protests were ending, riot-clad officers surrounded an area at the University of Pittsburgh, creating an ominous spectacle that some described as akin to Kent State. Guild legal observers witnessed police chasing and arresting many uninvolved students.

Among other questionable tactics, officers from dozens of law enforcement agencies lacked easily-identifiable badges, impeding citizens' ability to register complaints.

Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, said: "Accountability and chain of command is virtually impossible to establish given the lack of visible individual identifying badges on officers. The small, paper armband badges that law enforcement are wearing are difficult to read, and many wore black chest coverings with absolutely no identifying information. We've seen many law enforcement personnel, including Pittsburgh Police Department officers, deliberately covering up the arm IDs by rolling their shirt sleeves up over them."

The National Lawyers Guild is a progressive bar association, founded in 1937, with chapters in every state. Its national mass defense program includes education about laws and practices that affect individuals engaging in dissent, criminal defense of protesters and civil litigation to curb unconstitutional police practices, and its legal observing program. Resources detailing police tactics are available on the Guild's website,, including Punishing Protest and The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent.