National Lawyer's Guild

NLG Systems Summer Institute Fellows

This year, in addition to our Haywood Burns and Weinglass Fellows, the NLG National Office is hosting five fellows from the COVID-19 Rapid Response/Systems Summer Institute. A collaboration between People’s Parity Project (PPP), the Systemic Justice Project (SJP), and the Justice Catalyst (JC), the COVID-19 Rapid Response/Systems Summer Institute engages law students in summer legal fellowships, working with legal and law-related organizations. While working on urgent projects, fellows also participate in additional educational and community-building programming.

NLG National Office fellows are working on a Street Law project, conducting legal research in order to create Know Your Rights materials designed for movement organizers and activists. These materials include research on political prosecution of activists, COVID-19 emergency orders, resources for civil rights litigation, know-your-rights guides for gender justice movements, and a workers rights guide. Fellows from Systems Summer Institute have also been placed with the NLG SF Bay Area Chapter and the NLG NJ-DE Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network (PLAN).

NLG National Office Systems Summer Institute Fellows:

Sarah Ahmed is a rising 3L at the Texas A&M University School of Law. She is interested in work that explores the systemic roots of our social problems and scrutinizes the assumptions of neutrality and justness in our legal system. As a future lawyer, she hopes to advance the ways that legal professionals can help to bring transformative change.

Natasha Bynum is a rising 2L at CUNY School of Law in Queens, New York. After studying Food Systems and Public Policy at The Evergreen State College, she continued her education in the fields of small sustainable farms in upstate New York. Natasha plans to pursue a career in Environmental Justice.

Pat Keogh is a rising 3L at Cardozo Law in New York City, went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and is originally from New Jersey. Broadly interested in civil liberties, he has a particular affinity for free speech and voting rights issues.

Alessandra Stevens is a rising 2L JD/MPH student at Northeastern University School of Law. Alessandra is currently based in Atlanta after a year as a Scholar in Action studying sexual and reproductive health at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. She has a passion for reproductive justice, immigrant rights and grassroots policy campaigns

Kylie Yapp is from Anderson, Indiana and a rising 2L at IU Maurer School of Law. She is interested in working in public service or nonprofit law. On the side, she also wrote a children’s book called Too Many Raindrops.

[WEBINAR] Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements


Date: Wednesday, July 15, 2020 — 7 pm ET/4 pm PT

Description: This program will involve a discussion of current and historical federal harassment of both activists and lawyers working for social change; the unmet needs of both activists and lawyers in many parts of the US and how legal workers can bridge the gaps; and both ethical and practical advice on shielding your clients and yourself from state repression, including how to advise and litigate on behalf of clients to challenge the legitimacy of grand jury subpoenas.


  • Marques Banks, attorney, founder, Black Movement Law Project, addresses the criminalization of poverty
  • Moira Meltzer-Cohen, movement attorney and legal educator concerned with advocacy for incarcerated trans persons and political prisoners
  • Lamis Deek: human rights attorney, advocate and strategist focusing on Palestinian rights
  • Soffiyah Elijah: advocate, attorney, scholar, educator, and Executive Director of the Alliance of Families for Justice
  • Katie Yow: legal worker, social worker, anti-repression educator working with criminalized people in the American South

CLE Credit: NLG-NYC is an accredited CLE provider, and will provide CLE credit to New York State-barred attorneys who complete this program. Attorneys in other states that have reciprocity may seek credit in their state.

Cost: Free! As such, please consider joining and/or donating to NLG-NYC or your local NLG chapter.

Presented by: NLG-NYC and the NLG National Office

How NLG Members Can Support the People’s Strike

The People’s Strike, formed as a growing coalition of workers, community, and political organizations confronting the COVID-19 pandemic by struggling against inept and corrupt government and the forces of capital—embodied by banks, corporations, brokers, and others— that put profit before the people and the planet and had such a disparate impact upon BIPOC. The NLG was an early endorser of the People’s Strike, as its principles are in alignment with the NLG’s mission of putting human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests and profit.

The People’s Strike is also now focusing on the mass outrage reflected in the current nationwide uprising for the movement for Black lives against racist police violence.  Economic justice and the police/prison injustice system are two of the issues emphasized in the People’s Strike’s list of 17 demands, and they are key contexts in which white supremacist and capitalist violence proliferates with impunity.

Kali Akuno, co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, is one of the key organizers behind the People’s Strike. He recently gave an inspiring presentation to the NLG International Committee, emphasizing that while there have been periodic mass radical movements, all of which the NLG has been involved in, what has been lacking is organization for lasting change, rather than superficial reforms. He foresees growing repression (including of lawyers defending the movement), necessitating even more organized, coordinated responses.  Read his article on this in Popular Resistance, and watch his interview on Democracy Now.

NLG members have an invaluable role to play in the People’s Strike.  There are three areas of Guild legal work that will become increasingly essential as the movement and organization gain strength, along with relevant NLG resources for each:

  1. Mass defense: Know Your Rights materials in 6 languages, and a COVID-19 KYR guide (written in collaboration with Vision Change Win), info on Legal Observers, and legal support hotlines
  2. Eviction defense: NLG Housing & Homelessness Committee and their recent webinar on organizing for #HousingForAll
  3. Labor rights: NLG Labor & Employment Committee

Bankruptcy lawyers would also be an invaluable resource. If you are interested in offering your legal expertise in any of these areas, please email

The Guild has always been there as the legal arm of the movement.  Now is the time to proudly stand with the people again.

No justice, no peace!

Disability Justice and Abolition

By Katie Tastrom, Disability Justice Committee Co-Chair 

“When we say abolish police. We also mean the cop in your head and your heart.” —Tourmaline

As co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Disability Justice Committee (NLG DJC), I spend a lot of time thinking about the way disability justice can be used to support social movements. The NLG has been an explicitly abolitionist organization since 2015, when we passed a resolution that calls for “dismantling and abolition of all prisons and of all aspects of systems and institutions that support, condone, create, fill, or protect prisons.”

As police and prison abolition becomes more mainstream – thanks to the work of Black feminist thinkers like Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba – the NLG has an important role to play in moving the abolition movement forward. It’s an opportunity for us to make sure that we bring abolitionist support to all movements, including the disability justice movement.

The carceral state goes beyond jails and prisons, so if we want to abolish the cops in our head and our hearts, we need to identify the ways they exist and build alternatives. To those ends, I looked at abolition through a disability justice lens and identified some of the ways disabled people are affected by the carceral systems, not just in jail and prison but other manifestations of the carceral state like doctors, social workers, and other individuals and institutions. I also hope to make clear that abolition is a disability issue, which means that mainstream disability rights organizations should also be involved in the fight to abolish police and prisons.

Disability justice requires the abolition of police and prisons. Disabled people, especially Black and Native disabled people, are disproportionately harmed by prisons and policing. People in prison are three times and people in jail four times as likely to have a disability than those who aren’t incarcerated. Also, half of police killings are of disabled people. Between 25 and 40 percent of people with mental illness will be jailed or incarcerated at some point in their life, and the country’s largest mental health facility is a prison. Disability has a huge relationship to incarceration and policing, so it also needs to have a relationship to abolition.

Disability justice requires an intersectional approach, and the point of this is not to read Blackness out of the analysis, because Blackness multiplies the consequences of ableism and the harms of the carceral state. Instead I hope to add to the analysis by also including a disability justice perspective, and what all of this really looks like and means on the ground for disabled people, especially Black disabled people.

This is all informed by my identity as a working class white chronically ill and crazy queer sex worker with a J.D. and an MSW. I’ve been a social worker and have been in psych wards.  I have been involved and writing about disability justice for a few years now and I’m the co-chair of the NLG Disability Justice Committee.

I’ve intentionally written this from a first-person perspective and included insights from my lived experience. We talk a lot about the importance of hearing from people with lived experience, but then only listen to degreed “experts.” As someone who is both, my lived experience as a disabled person, especially one who has spent time in psych wards, has been more instructional than anything I can cite. Lived experience is a valid and irreplaceable place to gain knowledge. So since it’s important, I’m including it.

I also want to acknowledge the work of Chelsea Alvarez who consulted on this project.


Disability Justice and Carceral Systems

The carceral state is fundamentally incompatible with the principles of disability justice.

Disability Justice is a set of ten principles articulated by Patty Berne and created with other

disabled BIPOC leaders. These are: intersectionality, leadership of the most impacted, anti-capitalism, cross-movement organizing, wholeness, sustainability, cross-disability solidarity, interdependence, collective access, and collective liberation. Disability justice is a great analysis to apply to abolition because they are borne out of the same vision of liberation for all. For example, intersectionality and leadership of the most impacted requires that we center Black, disabled, and trans and nonbinary leadership, the exact people who are most harmed by policing and prisons. Disability justice also includes collective liberation, which of course includes everyone locked up in jails and prisons, but also psych wards and nursing homes.

I don’t want to belabor this point because I think it’s pretty clear that disability justice requires abolition – and many disability justice leaders also do abolition work. What I want to do is start thinking about what this really means in both the lives of disabled people and for our activism as we fight towards abolition. The purpose is to facilitate what disability justice calls “cross-movement organizing,” to help abolitionists learn more about disability justice and vice versa to help build the most effective movement possible.


As noted above, a lot of the people in prisons and jails are disabled. People with learning, developmental,  and mental health disabilities are especially overrepresented in the criminal justice system. There’s a ton of writing about this so I’m not going to go too far into it, but this alone should be enough to convince the mainstream disability community that they should be pushing for abolition.

Along with being more likely to end up in jails and prisons, once we are there disabled people are treated especially cruelly. In 2015 Human Rights Watch issued a report called Callous and Cruel, Use of force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons. Unsurprisingly, they found that people in prisons and jails were not getting the mental health treatment they needed. Of course, this leads to people having more mental health symptoms including being unable to follow the commands of guards. Instead of treatment, they are punished with isolation which then often leads to a further increase in mental health symptoms.

A report from the Treatment Advocacy Center catalogued some of the ways that people with developmental and mental health disabilities are especially victimized in prisons and jails such as by being kept in prison or jail longer than non-disabled inmates; they are “disproportionately abused, beaten, and/or raped;” are more likely to spend time in solitary confinement and experience an increase of symptoms.

Many jails and prisons are also not accessible for people with physical disabilities. I worked on a lawsuit against a prison that would not allow a wheelchair user to use a motorized wheelchair provided at his own cost. Instead, he had to rely on his roommate or someone else to push his manual wheelchair for him, including to the bathroom. However, there were not always people available to push him so sometimes he was forced to soil himself. I don’t say this to push for resources to be put into making prisons accessible of course. This is just one example of some of the cruelty against disabled people in prison. Jails and prisons are an especially terrible place for disabled people.


A lot of times disabled people may not be able to access needed care, or be left to die because we are not seen as valuable. Just in the last few months disabled people had to fight against medical rationing during COVID-19. While a federal court has said that hospitals cannot discriminate against disabled people during lifesaving treatment, disabled people are still seen as lives less worth saving. For example, people with intellectual disabilities have worse outcomes like spending more time in hospitals and dying earlier, often from things that could have been prevented with proper care. As always, Black, brown, and trans people will be disproportionately affected.

When we are able to get care in hospitals, we may end up getting stuck there for extended periods because that is the only place we are able to get treatment. When you are in the hospital you are at the whims of the doctors and nurses and their decisions about your care and how long you should remain there. In this way, hospitals become a place of containment and death for disabled people. (Though obviously one we are sometimes forced to engage with.)

Psych Wards

By this I mean anyone who is in a locked “mental health” facility like those in hospitals. I’m not going to spend too long on this section because I think and hope it’s clear that locking up disabled people against their will is carceral. However, it is incredibly important, and also something that personally gives me panic attacks. Aside from being inherently carceral, psych wards are also becoming more and more prison-like. Of course those facilities that serve low income, BIPOC, and people in severe crisis (which is what happens when you don’t have access to treatment and other necessary resources), will tend to be the most carceral.

States have different laws around involuntary commitment, but many states have “civil commitment” mechanisms which allow people with mental health and developmental disabilities to be forced into inpatient or outpatient treatment, even without being convicted of a crime. State laws usually only require that the court deem the person “dangerous,” which is of course judged in the context of a culture that has taught people to fear people with mental health disabilities, especially when they are Black.

Psych Emergency Rooms

The ideal best case scenario of calling the police on a suicidal person is that the police will bring them to the local psychiatric emergency room if you have one, the general ER if not. Many hospitals have some kind of “Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program” (CPEP) program, though the acronym may differ. These are hospital-based psychiatric programs that will often intake people either through the emergency room or another place on-site. Usually what happens is – typically after waiting for hours – a psychiatrist or other “professional” will do an evaluation. After the evaluation people are usually either discharged, kept for observation, or sent back home.

As anyone who has needed emergency medical assistance of any kind is probably aware, it usually requires a long wait, and acute psychiatric care is no different, though obviously more resourced communities will likely have shorter wait times and vice versa. If  someone is suicidal, having to wait those few hours for an evaluation isn’t helpful, and there is nothing typically in the evaluation process that is about treatment.

So after the evaluation process if someone is discharged, they have received no treatment and just went through that likely traumatic (if the police are involved) experience. If you can be admitted, which depends on capacity, your level of distress, and possibly your insurance coverage, you will be admitted to the psych ward, which are the same psych wards that I addressed above. (Some places may have different units, but it’s essentially the same thing; your options are either be admitted and give up a ton of rights, and possibly be held against your will, or get no immediate treatment at all.)

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are another place where disabled people are locked up and warehoused and they must be a central focus of abolition. Nursing homes are places where people with disabilities (including disabilities due to age) are kept in congregant settings. Basically institutions but smaller. Late disabled activist Stacey Park Milbern noted that one of the  problems with nursing homes is that “disabled people, especially people of color, are left alone in a system that already doesn’t care about us.”

Like many of these topics, whole books could be written about just this alone. Alice Wong summarized the issue well in her article about the rapid spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes (which also highlights some of the danger of these settings):

“Congregant settings do not ensure safety or care. By design, institutions do not allow us to know about the conditions of the people incarcerated inside. They are allowed to operate without transparency and accountability. They render people as less than human, subject to exploitation, abuse, and neglect. The systems that exist now don’t have to remain the same. We must dismantle the nursing home industry that places profits over lives as they endanger their workers and operates with inadequate oversight and regulation. And we must work toward decarceration and deinstitutionalization because these systems are dangerous, inhumane, and unjust.” (Links in original.)

Other Aspects of the Carceral State

“I want to figure out how to transform harm in every possible context because I have been harmed, and I have harmed other people. My political commitments are to developing stronger relationships with people, and to transforming harm. All those other things that you mentioned, the ideas only matter to me to the extent that they impact both those [commitments]. It is deeply offensive and hurtful to me that we have prisons because they break relationships and people. That’s how I feel about prisons—they are inherently made for isolation.

When they talk about repair and restorative justice, it’s all about relationships, and relationships in the context of harm. So, when people talk about these things as though they are just abstract ideas, or things that are just theory-building without connection to actual people’s lives, I can’t recognize it.”       –Mariame Kaba

Disabled people frequently interact with systems of incarceration beyond being physically locked up. The carceral system affects the lives of disabled people also through the way the system is structured, and through the individuals who make up the systems.


Why are so many disabled people behind bars? Why are so many incarcerated people disabled? Rebecca Vallas wrote Disabled Behind Bars: The Mass Incarceration of People With Disabilities in America’s Jails and Prisons, and found in part that disabled people, especially people with mental health disabilities, are more likely to interact with police and be arrested than nondisabled people, and “between seven and ten percent of all police interactions involve individuals with mental health conditions.” Because of the strong connection between disabled people and over policing, as well as the strong connection between Black people and over policing, we need to center Black disabled people in all conversations about policing. (As well as sex workers, trans people and others). Abolitionists (and reformists) already talk about policing frequently, though rarely is the connection between disability brought up.

Disabled People Are Safer Without Police

One of the biggest concerns that people have with abolition is about safety. There are many longtime abolition activists and organizations that go into much more detail about this, (including the ways the question itself is Anti-Black.) But the statistics make clear that disabled people are not safe right now and that more police or prisons will just make disabled people less safe, exponentially so for Black disabled people. Disabled people are disproportionately likely to be victims of violence from police, as noted above half of police shootings are of disabled people. Abolishing the police makes us safer because we don’t have to suffer their violence.

Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters, a report from The Treatment and Advocacy Center found that, “Because of the disproportionate volume of contact between individuals with serious mental illness and law enforcement, reducing the likelihood of police interaction with individuals in psychiatric crisis may represent the single most immediate, practical strategy for reducing fatal police encounters in the United States.” (Emphasis mine.) Obviously getting rid of the police would reduce police encounters to zero.

We also “experience significantly higher rates of rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault than non-disabled people.” Disabled people are often targeted and victimized due to our vulnerability in the current system, which means that safety is even more important. The same report from the Bureau of Justice statistics found that disabled people are significantly more likely to be victimized by someone they know, including caregivers. Because we may depend on our caregivers and other family members, we may be unlikely or unable to “report them,” so the abuse is already not being stopped by the current system. These numbers don’t even include nursing homes and other institutions.

Even when a disabled person is being abused, the police will rarely be of use. Instead they will probably direct you to your local adult protection agency. So if you look at the typical ways that interpersonal violence against people with disabilities manifests, the police are most likely either going to be the cause of the violence, or do nothing about it even if they find out. The police are empirically more dangerous to disabled people than the immediate abolition of them would be.

Doctors as Cops

If you are disabled or a person of color or fat or queer or trans or have any kind of marginalized identity, you have probably experienced medical care where doctors act more like police than doctors, sometimes working directly with them. Since lawmakers have been focusing on “the opiate epidemic,” it has only gotten worse. Now doctors can be held criminally responsible for prescribing pain medication if a judge disagrees with the prescription. As one former doctor said:, “Holding physicians liable for misbehavior or dishonesty of their patients turns physicians into policemen and is, in principle, incompatible with effective medical care.” As always, the consequences of this policy won’t be felt equally, obviously disabled people are more likely to interact with doctors, so we’ll have to deal with it the most. Black people are also disproportionately affected and studies have shown doctors consistently undertreatment pain in Black people.

Disabled people have a very interesting relationship with diagnosis. In some ways it is helpful to get a diagnosis, but in other ways it can be harmful. While typically diagnoses are required by insurance companies before they will pay for treatment, diagnoses can also be used against people in employment, healthcare, and other situations, including civil commitment. Black people are especially likely to be misdiagnosed, and a recent study has found psychiatric diagnostics scientifically worthless and influenced by bias. For example, though Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) ADHD share many of the same characteristics, Black kids are more likely to be diagnosed with ODD due to racial bias.


Even though addiction is widely acknowledged as a disease, it’s still generally treated as a criminal behavior by the U.S. justice system. Possession and use of small amounts of drugs is still a crime, with the exception of marijuana and in only some states. Whether addiction alone is a disability is beyond the scope of this, but if addiction is a disease then it shouldn’t be treated as a crime. Either way, addiction is a disability issue because disabled people are more likely to have addictions.

People with intellectual disabilities have a higher rate of substance abuse and face more extensive consequences and problems from their use –  including criminal justice involvement – than nondisabled people. Mental health and addiction are so connected that many hospitals and other institutional settings have specific dual diagnosis programs for people with both mental health and addiction issues. People with physical disabilities have substance use disorders at two to four times the rate of nondisabled people.

The carceral system has become more involved over time with addiction, and some jails are being turned into treatment centers for people who have not even been accused of a crime. In other words, in order to get substance abuse treatment in some places, people have to put themselves in jail. States laws, like Massachusetts, also allow for involuntary commitment based on addiction. In other words, someone can be locked up for having an addiction even if they aren’t convicted of other crimes.

Another way that the carceral system has continued to grow into addiction treatment is through drug courts. Drug courts were pushed as a way to keep people with substance abuse issues who committed addiction related crimes out of jail and into treatment, but they didn’t work out that way. Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, says that drug courts have done more harm than good. Before the drug courts, the prosecutor would often connect someone with drug issues to a social worker or addiction treatment and drop the charges.

Now, to participate in these specialized drug court programs you need to plead guilty. Generally the court will dismiss the charges only after you successfully complete the program. In other words, the only way to end up without a record (and probably jail time) is to “complete” the court. The problem is that part of recovery from drug addiction involves relapsing, which in most programs and in most cases will mean the judge will kick you out of drug court and send them back to jail, and jails are not treatment centers. So in the end the outcome is worse than if there wasn’t a drug court to begin with.

Social Workers

Social workers are another arm of the carceral state. Since specifics differ so much between agencies, and this issue alone could be its own book, I’ll just touch on it briefly. The whole profession is based on white supremacist models where (often) middle class white women social workers act as gatekeepers to benefits for marginalized people. Social workers are often cogs in the machine that keep the prison industrial complex going. One bad note from a social worker can land someone on probation in jail or permanently separate a parent and child.

Social workers can have as much power over your life as a police officer does, and they can use it in the same way. Think about social workers who work in treatment centers and report relapses to a probation officer which can result in a violation of probation or parole that leads to jail or prison. The model the profession is based on assumes a power differential between the social worker and the client, and in real life the power differences are even more stark and there is often little oversight and training.

Of course there are some individual social workers who are doing good and liberatory work, including abolitionist work. However, like every other aspect of white supremacy, if you are not actively working against it, you are supporting it.

CPS and Foster Care  

Another way that social workers uphold the carceral state is through Child Protective Services (CPS), or whatever your local child welfare agency is called. Social workers are mandated reporters, which means that if they suspect any child abuse or neglect they must – by law – call CPS. This is even if they know that the likely outcome would lead to the child being in a less safe environment, including foster care that is not necessarily equipped for disabled kids. Some schools have even allegedly used CPS calls as a way to get parents to do what they want. At the same time, CPS has been found to ignore abuse against disabled children.

CPS is especially harmful for disabled parents as parents with disabilities are disproportionately involved with the child welfare system and are more likely to have their parental rights terminated than non-disabled people. Even the DOJ has acknowledged widespread discrimination against parents with disabilities.

Although CPS social workers may not see their jobs as adversarial to the parent, when a child abuse or neglect case goes forward, CPS is on the side of the state. In the cases I sat in on, all of the CPS social workers worked very closely with the state to help move forward to sever the rights of the often disabled biological parents. Then the child often ends up in foster care.

Foster Care

In a study published in the Children and Youth Service Review in 2016, researchers found that “at least 19% of children in foster care have a parent or caretaker with a disability.” They also found worse outcomes in terms of permanency and length of time in foster care for kids who have a parent or caretaker with a disability. Disabled kids are overrepresented in the foster care system and are also likely to be in foster homes with caregivers who don’t have the equipment and/or expertise to care for them.

Teachers and Special Education

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the way that school policies and practices lead students, especially Black and disabled students, directly into interaction with the criminal justice system. The Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund issued a report which said:

“Students who qualify for special education too often receive inferior services in segregated settings and incur repeated disciplinary actions. According to the U.S. Department of Education (PDF), students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13 percent) than students without disabilities (6 percent). Students with disabilities represent 12 percent of the overall student population, yet make up 25 percent of all students involved in a school-related arrest, 58 percent of all students placed in seclusion, and a staggering 75 percent of all students physically restrained at school.

The numbers are even worse for students of color with disabilities. Over a quarter of African-American boys with disabilities, and 19 percent of African-American girls with disabilities, received at least one out-of-school suspension in 2011—2012. African-American students with disabilities represent 18.7 percent of the special education population, but 49.9 percent of special education students in correctional facilities.

Many disabled youth in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems go through general education with unaddressed academic, behavioral, or mental health needs. For example, one study found that up to 85 percent of children in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education, yet only 37 percent receive services while in school.”

Disabled Black kids are uniquely affected by the school to prison pipeline, and special education classes are made to feed them into the pipeline to prison. 

Suicide Crisis Workers

One of the only emergency mental health resources that most have access to is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. What most people don’t know is that the Suicide Prevention Lifeline has an active intervention policy which means they will call the police and use location services to try to find callers who the worker believes are in imminent danger of killing themselves. I wrote about how harmful it is to send the police to people in mental health crises for Slate back in 2017 in the wake of Charleena Lyles’ death. I worked at the Lifeline for a few months before writing that piece and while I was there I tried to bring up issues about how the police may exacerbate the crisis and danger suicidal people are facing in many situations, especially for Black people. This was not received well and also wasn’t included in any part of the training. The police were presented as only helpful for people in crisis, even though that’s objectively not true.

Another problem is aside from the police, hospitals, and suicide hotlines (some of which, like the Trans Lifeline, do not call emergency services without your consent), there are not many resources for people who are in acute mental health crisis. Once the police do get involved in a situation where someone is in extreme mental distress, they will likely either arrest you or send you to your hospital acute psychiatric emergency department.

Social Security Benefits

My last lawyer job- before I got too sick to work a regular job and starting writing and doing sex work – was in Social Security Federal Court Appeals. I have a lot to say about benefits, and am just skimming the surface below.


In the U.S. there are two kinds of  disability benefits: Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Generally, disabled people only get one or the other. The laws for what adults need to prove to get benefits are the same, the differences are related to benefits received. In order to be eligible for SSDI, the disabled person must have worked on the books for a certain amount of time. In other words, it’s only available for people who get too disabled to work later on in life (or at least after working a certain amount of time.) SSDI pays more money to beneficiaries and is not means tested which means you can have as much money or assets as you want and still receive the benefit. In other words, it has nothing to do with need. However, if you don’t have that work record, you can’t get SSDI.

Conversely, SSI is means tested and has very strict resource limits. In 2020 the resource limit was $2000 for an individual and $3000 for a couple. That’s not a typo. Benefit payments are $783 a month for an individual. So if you are so disabled you have never been able to work– the only benefit available literally forces you into poverty. When you look at these numbers it’s easy to see how marginalized disabled people have no choice but to rely on things like theft and sex work which leads to coming in contact with the criminal justice system. It can also take years for benefits to be approved, so during that time disabled people need to figure out other ways to get by.

And that’s even if someone can get benefits. I worked on a case for someone whose mental health disabilities were so severe he had a pump of an anti-psychotic medicine surgically implanted into him, but since he had been in and out of prison, and prison doesn’t keep good medical records, he didn’t have the records to prove it. I could go on about people who have wrongfully been denied disability, but most people know at least one person who this has happened to. Even on its face you can see the way disability benefits are structured supports the carceral state.

Medicaid and Institutional Bias

Medicaid, the government provided insurance for low income people who qualify –  plays a huge part in the incarceration in nursing homes of people with disabilities through something called the “institutional bias.” The New York State Center for Disability Rights explains that:

In the United States, nursing homes have the advantage of what’s called the Institutional Bias, meaning that any state that receives federal dollars for Medicaid, must provide nursing home services, but community based services are optional.

So what happens is communities have a lot of nursing homes, but not community or home based options. So people who don’t need the level of care that a nursing home provides end up there because it’s the only way to get the care they need – along with the subsequent lack of freedom (and also a much more expensive bill.)

Sex Offender Registry

Abolishing the sex offender registry has been something that abolitionists have been talking about for a while, so I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds with this, but I do want to note that this is a disability issue as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are disproportionately harmed by these lists. 

Sex Work

While there are not specific numbers, there’s evidence that sex workers are disproportionately disabled. I wrote about the connection between disability and sex work for Rooted in Rights, and am working on other research about this issue (and living it). But since I started sex work I met a lot of people with stories like mine, people who got too mentally or physically (or both) sick to work a typical job and needed something accessible and with a low barrier to entry. Full service sex work is still criminalized in the vast majority of the country, and sex workers – especially Black and trans sex workers are at constant risk of arrest, not to mention the violence the police do nothing about.


The last thing I want to briefly touch in in this section is the relationship between trauma and incarceration. Trauma is disabling, which is expressed diagnostically with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Incarcerated people – especially in the United States – have a much higher rate of PTSD that people who aren’t involved with the criminal justice system. Importantly, childhood poverty contributes to both PTSD and incarceration rates. That means disproportionately Black, brown, and disabled families that are forced into poverty – including everyone on SSI – will be more likely to have trauma related disability and are likely to end up in contact with the criminal justice system.

Crip Strategies for Abolition

And right now, we’re at an interesting moment in the history of disability justice. It’s a moment in which many social justice activists slap “disability justice” on their manifestos or add “ableism” to the list of stuff they’re against. But then nothing else changes: All their organizing is still run the exact same inaccessible way, with the 10-mile-long marches, workshops that urge people to “get out of their seats and move!” and lack of inclusion of any disabled issues or organizing strategies in the work. Many abled Black and Brown activists I know and am comrades with remain ignorant of the fact that sick and disabled Black and Brown people are doing critical organizing and cultural work on issues from protesting the police murders of Black and Brown disabled people to not being killed off by eugenics, killer cops and medical neglect. Many remain ignorant of how we are organizing against getting locked up in back rooms or institutions, and how we are fighting the end of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and the Americans with Disabilities Act. And, no matter how much shit I post on Instagram about it, many remain ignorant of the fact that we have histories and cultures and skills and visions. And that if we’re going to survive the Trumpocalypse and make the new world emerge, our work needs to be cripped the fuck out. Our work needs to center disability justice and the activists at the heart of it who have reclaimed “crip” or “krip” as a positive identity, where being sick, disabled, mad, neurodivergent/Autistic and/or Deaf is at the heart of our radicalism. —Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in 2018

As the NLG works towards our ultimate goal of abolishing the cops in our heads and our hearts and our medical systems, we should follow the disability justice principles of  leadership by the most impacted and intersectionality. Whenever we talk about abolition we need to take into account disability justice and center disabled people, especially Black trans incarcerated disabled people, in our analysis.

As the NLG’s abolition work grows and takes focus, it’s important that we also prioritize abolitionist interventions that center disabilities. Here are just a few ideas I had, meant as a place to start.

Lessons from Deinstitutionalization

It’s important for abolitionists to learn about deinstitutionalization. Before the 1960s people with mental health and developmental disabilities were housed in crowded and neglectful “psychiatric hospitals.” Activists wanted to shut down these cruel facilities and instead support community mental health care supports. However, in the 1980’s Reagan dramatically decreased mental health funding. This, along with the work of activists, lead to the closure of institutions, a definite good thing. However, since there weren’t resources in place for mental health funding, a lot of the people who were in institutions were sent to get treatment in prison and jails.

Disabled abolitionist scholar Liat Ben-Moshe has written about the relationship between deinstitutionalization and abolition. Ben-Moshe talks extensively about how the goals of the deinstitutionalization movement are in large part the goals of the prison abolition movement. Abolition has a lot to learn from deinstitutionalization, including from the disabled activists who were successful in many of their goals.  It’s a huge topic that I am not doing justice here, but I strongly encourage abolitionists to read Ben-Moshe’s work including their new book, which focuses on this topic.

For everyone – but especially for disabled people – abolition is as much about building the appropriate resources and supports as it is about tearing down the harmful structures that cage, torture, and kill us. However, as Ben-Moshe argues, it will usually be beneficial to dismantle carceral structures even if we don’t yet have the perfect world for people to return to. Things like  community mental health support and culturally competent health care for everyone and other resources for disabled people that are consistent with abolitionist principles need to be part of our plan.

No Accesswashing

Late disability justice activist Stacey Park Milbern coined the term “access washing.” Similar to pinkwashing or greenwashing, she defined accesswashing as “leveraging ‘accessibility’ as justification to harm communities of color and poor & working class communities. If accessibility is made at people’s expense, we have to question and challenge that as access.”  Milbern gives examples of access washing such as using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to close down a polling place, which ends up suppressing votes, many from disabled people. We can’t let the state use disability as a justification for any kind of violence, and we need to be thoughtful and nuanced in our approaches.

We don’t just need disability leadership, we need intersectional disability justice leadership or else we will end up reproducing the same systems against other marginalized people.


If I can boil down my thoughts about disability justice and abolition into three words it would be: Olmstead not ADA. You’re probably familiar with the ADA, a law that requires equal access for disabled people. I took a whole class in law school on just the ADA, it’s a big law with a ton of regulations, but generally they revolve around providing measures so that disabled people can access jobs and buildings and other things. I wouldn’t have been able to finish law school without the ADA, it’s an important law and has helped a lot of disabled people.

Olmstead is a Supreme Court decision from 1999 that was brought by two women with developmental and mental health disabilities who were living in the psych unit of a hospital. The mental health professionals in the hospital said they did not need the level of care the hospital provided and could move to a community-based program. However, even though they were ready they were stuck in the hospital for years so they sued under the ADA and won. The Supreme Court said the public entities must provide community-based services for people with disabilities. Olmstead stands for the idea that disabled people’s freedom is important and requires that people with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive setting that gives us an adequate level of care.

I think about the ADA as a way for disabled people to participate in public life. Whereas Olmstead, while the decision was based on the ADA, gives disabled people a way to have a private life. So when working towards abolition we should focus less on accessing institutions and structures that already exist, and more on freeing disabled people who are already entangled in these structures.

Obviously this isn’t a hard rule, of course sometimes a direct ADA suit about access to a facility may be the strategic move towards abolition. That’s why it’s important to follow Black disabled queer and trans leadership, so that decisions can be made based on the specifics of the situation. Though I think generally this is a helpful general concept when thinking about different approaches to disability activism.

Peer Mental Health

Olmstead helped to push for more community care, but not all community care is created equal. We need to make sure that we are using models and structures in our supports that don’t use carceral logic and instead support both interdependence and independence.  Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthumkhulu wrote a wonderful essay in Medium about peer supports and community peer mental health models. In the essay peer mental health models are described as a way for disabled people to support each other in culturally competent ways without involving coercive systems. Peer mental health projects can also include mobile response teams or similar strategies to help disabled people get the mental health care we need without involving police or having to go to a psych ward.

Housing and Home Care

Disabled people need access to accessible housing, and everything should be done to help disabled people live in our homes if we want. Disabled people are disproportionately houseless and homelessness is a disability issue. Formerly incarcerated people are almost ten times more likely to be homeless.

However, not all policies towards housing are abolitionist. Many, if not most, housing nonprofits require residents to follow strict rules, some of which they may be literally incapable of following. For example, most programs don’t allow alcohol or drugs and will kick someone out if they are found to be using, which usually puts them back on the streets or back in jail. Of course, many houseless disabled people use drugs to self-medicate, as that may be the only kind of medicine that is accessible. These programs rely on a carceral mindset of punishment by removal of basic needs to punish marginalized people for doing our best to survive.

Instead, we need to be pushing for Housing First policies. This model has been gaining popularity and the basic idea is that you give someone housing no matter what other things they are dealing with or what kind of record they have or what substances they are choosing to take. These policies have shown to work and participants spend less time homeless or hospitalized.  It also allows for better and non-coercive relationships between residents and workers.

Disabled people also need to be able to remain in our homes if we want. Home care is so important to help disabled people remain as outside the clutches of the state as possible. And for many can be a life or death issue.

We All Need to Learn About Benefits (Sorry)

While even disabled people who get benefits like SSI or SSDI are still usually forced into poverty, access to benefits is still really important for people who are disabled. Otherwise, and sometimes even still, we’ll need to participate in criminalized economies like drugs and the sex trade which of course lead to interactions with law enforcement.

Benefits are also important because a lot of us depend on regular medication. Specifically with medications used to treat mental health issues, going off the medication will often lead to an increase in mental health symptoms. However, in most places Medicaid is a mess and everywhere the health system is a mess so access to medication and other treatment can be inconsistent. Learning about these systems and helping people navigate them can help to lessen criminal justice interaction.

More of us need to learn about things like SSI and SSDI and Medicaid etc. so we can help people stay alive and at home and understand how these benefit programs push poor disabled people directly into the criminal justice system. Obviously we need better benefit policy too, and as abolitionists we need to be in these conversations because things like the Medicaid institutional bias leads to a lot of incarceration. I know it’s not as sexy as throwing teargas canisters at cops but it’s just as important.


Along the same lines, we also need to decriminalize sex work and drugs. Beyond the direct criminalization of disabled sex workers, criminalization also increases sex trafficking. Disabled people, especially those with intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking. Also, because of the criminalization of sex work many trafficking victims, including children, end up incarcerated.

We also need to stop thinking that specialized courts like drug court or human trafficking court really help anything. I noted their problems earlier, but I think it’s important that we specifically call for their abolition. An article by Becca Kendis in the Case Western Reserve Law Review came to the same conclusion. Kendis recommended that resources are best put into pushing for decriminalization. As abolitionists this is the exact kind of thing that we need to know and intervene in.

Harm Reduction 

Harm Reduction is a movement that’s focused on shifting resources to those most criminalized. Harm reduction was started by drug users, sex workers, and trans people of color to help keep each other safe from the consequences of criminalization, and included providing clean needles and condoms and other things that helped keep people safer. The popularity of harm reduction as a model has grown, and it’s common for harm reduction to be applied to other things (both appropriately and inappropriately.) Many abolitionists are already familiar with harm reduction, but fail to recognize harm reduction’s special significance for disabled people and don’t recognize that it was created by the same people most affected by incarceration and policing.

Support for Disabled Parents

Another huge piece that I want abolitionists to focus on more is the way that CPS acts as an arm of the carceral state, and especially the way this affects Black disabled parents. Removal rates of children where parents have a psychiatric disability have been found to be as high as 80%. Black and Native children have twice the rates of contact with the child welfare system that white kids have. If there is no relative or family friend the social worker approves of to take a removed child in, the child will end up in foster care.

Like every other topic here, I could go on about the way the child welfare system destroys Black disabled families, but I’m limiting it to a quick highlight of one piece of federal policy and state related to this. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 was passed theoretically to give children in foster care more stability, because many children in foster care are moved around repeatedly. The act has a lot of parts, which all require different analysis, but one part required states to pass laws related to permanency of placements.

In New York, this means that CPS is, by law, supposed to file Termination of Parental Rights petitions (TPR) if the child has spent 15 of the last 22 months in non-kinship foster care. (Absent compelling reasons that would be in the best interest of the child, though note that this is the exception to the rule, not the rule.) For parents with disabilities, this is a very short amount of time to access and receive any kind of services and/or find and set up appropriate housing or jump through whatever other hoops CPS is asking for, especially considering you are losing something as significant as permanent parental rights to your child.

The system is set up to make it easier for kids to be removed from their families permanently then it is to give disabled parents some parenting support. The vast majority of families involved with CPS are related to neglect rather than other kinds of abuse. Some disabled parents would be able to parent their children safely at home if they just had more support, like stable housing, food, medication, counseling, and/or other resources. Most people want to be good parents but the current system is stacked against them.

Police, Stigma, and 911

The last thing I want to talk about is strategies to keep people from calling the police on disabled people. I wrote an article a few years ago for The Body is Not an Apology about ways to help someone in a mental health emergency without calling the police. Essentially it boils down to: if someone needs help, help them without calling the police; if they don’t need help leave them alone. (And if you feel unsafe then focus on removing yourself from the situation.) As I described above, the police cannot help a mental health situation, even the best case scenario isn’t helpful, they can only make it worse. However, because there is so much stigma around people with mental health disabilities and neurodiverse people, some people will call the police on people for having mental health symptoms even when they are not in distress and are just existing publicly as a disabled person.

But what if someone is in distress? This would be when things like peer led rapid response would be helpful. Disabled people do this informally all the time, I’ve helped lots of suicidal friends try to problem solve emergency mental health care and support around suicidality with as little contact with medical and carceral systems as possible. Sometimes some of us still end up at the hospital, because we need a level of support that is impossible or difficult to get outside of hospitals under the current structure, which is part of the problem.

When it comes to designing support networks, disabled people have and continue to be leaders in building the mutual aid structures that concepts like abolition rely upon. For example, The Disability Justice Culture Club in Oakland is led by BIPOC disabled people has organized distribution of  COVID-19 supplies and masks during the forest fires in California. Of course most disabled people do not have access to mutual aid projects, especially people like me who live rurally.

Prison and police abolitionists can and should look to disability justice to help guide the movement. Abolition and disability justice both envision worlds where everyone is free, and both attempt to center the most impacted as the route to justice. Similarly, disability justice activists, especially white ones, need to understand and embrace abolition and understand that disabled people cannot have justice until we have a world without incarceration.

The NLG has an important role to play in creating a world without prisons. We need to use all the tools we have, including and especially the framework of disability justice, to move our work forward and make sure that we are centering the most oppressed, since that is the only way that we all get free.


Featured image:  Torso level photo of three Black and disabled folx (a non-binary person holding a cane, a woman in a power wheelchair, and a woman on a folding chair) raising their fists on the sidewalk in front of a white wall. (Credit: Disabled and Here.)

2020 NLG Leonard Weinglass Fellowship Recipient: Zsea Bowmani

The National Lawyers Guild Foundation and NLG National Office are thrilled to announced the recipient of the 2020 Leonard I. Weinglass Memorial Fellowship, Zsea Bowmani from the NLG San Francisco/Bay Area Chapter!

The Weinglass Fellowship is awarded annually to a NLG member and recent law school graduate to spend 10 weeks working on a project in line with the mission of the NLG. As a Weinglass Fellow, Zsea will be developing an environmental justice legal defense and action plan with the NLG San Francisco/Bay Area Chapter and the community group Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

Zsea is a civil rights attorney and legal scholar with a focus on race, gender, human rights, environmental justice. He received his B.A. in History from Stanford University and his J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law with certificates in Public Interest and Social Justice Law and Public International Law. While at Santa Clara Law, Zsea was very active in street law programs and progressive lawyering, serving as Co-Vice President of the school’s NLG chapter, teaching underserved students through the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, and hosting a multi-day symposium on environmental law and human rights as Senior Symposium Editor of the Journal of International Law. After graduation, Zsea worked as a Policy Fellow at the National LGBTQ Task Force in Washington DC on campaigns to stop anti-transgender legislation and expand access to health care. The following year he fought against the policing, criminalization, and discrimination of transgender people at the ACLU of Illinois. Zsea’s most recent research, sponsored in part by a Hackworth Grant from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, explores the distinct approaches of the US and Cuba towards the climate crisis and the impact the decades-old embargo has had on progress and meaningful change. 

Zsea has been honored with multiple awards for his activism, including the Charles Houston Bar Association Scholarship, Asian Pacific American Bar Association-Silicon Valley and Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom Scholarship, and Pro Bono Recognition Award for over 50 hours of community service each year. He is also an award-winning scholar and has published in the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law and the Seattle Journal for Social Justice. Zsea currently serves on the Board of the National Trans Bar Association and is a member of the Environmental Justice and Common Good Initiative at Santa Clara University.

Please join us in congratulating Zsea!

Thanks to a generous bequest from the Weinglass estate, the NLG Foundation has established a fellowship for recent law graduates to work for the NLG on a specific civil rights or civil liberties project. Previous fellows have developed projects to assist with parole and sponsorship for LGBTQ+ migrants, reunite American citizen-children with undocumented parents who have been deported to their country of origin, support community bond funds, and fight a new maximum security prison planned for construction on a former coal mining site.

NLG, M4BL, and L4BL Partner to Provide Legal Support for Juneteenth Actions

Posted on June 17, 2020



Following weeks of non-stop protests in all 50 states, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) is calling for a weekend of actions June 19-21 to honor the legacy of Juneteenth. Hundreds of events are planned across the country, and the NLG is coordinating with M4BL and Law for Black Lives (L4BL) to provide legal support along with local jail support groups, bail funds, and legal collectives.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, and this year will build on ongoing mass mobilizations against racial injustice and police brutality against Black people. As the SixNineteen website describes: “Juneteenth is a day that honors Black freedom and Black resistance, and centers Black people’s unique contribution to the struggle for justice in the U.S. This Juneteenth is a rare moment for our communities to proclaim in one voice that Black Lives Matter, and that we won’t tolerate anything less than justice for all our people.”

The NLG affirms our full support for the demands of the Movement for Black Lives:

  • Defund the police
  • Invest in Black communities
  • Resignation of Donald Trump

The NLG is taking our lead from local and national Black-led organizations to help fight for an end to the criminalization and murder of Black people. The past few weeks of demonstrations nationwide have led to many violent police attacks on protesters, enactment of legally questionable curfews, deployment of the National Guard, and over 10,000 arrests (although most charges were dropped almost immediately). Therefore, the NLG and L4BL are preparing to support Juneteenth actions through legal observing, jail support, legal hotlines, and legal representation when possible.

“This Juneteenth will be a historic moment of reckoning for our country’s legacy of slavery, colonialism, and genocide. The NLG is proud to work in solidarity with M4BL and L4BL as people rise up to insist that all Black lives matter,” said NLG Executive Director Pooja Gehi.

Find a Juneteenth action near you at the SixNineteen website, and we’ll see you in the streets.


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.

CLE: Fighting for the Release of Detained Immigrants During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Time: 12-2pm PT/ 1-3pm MT/ 2-4pm CT/ 3-5pm ET

REGISTER:   Description: The detention of immigrants who are in removal proceedings, fighting to remain in the US with their families, or seeking a safe haven from government repression, gang violence or domestic abuse in their home countries, is unjust to begin with. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to that injustice by forcing these same immigrants, many with underlying health problems, to remain in crowded conditions that do not allow for social distancing and expose them to a deadly virus. This webinar will provide both new and experienced advocates with tools and strategies for seeking the release of detained immigrants, from bond and humanitarian parole to habeas proceedings in Federal Court, and review the class action litigation that has been filed to secure the release of thousands from detention facilities. An organizer with a faith rooted program that fights for social justice will then discuss the work that activists are engaged in to both help secure the release of detained individuals and provide them with support once they are released from custody. Topics:
  1. Bond, Parole, and Humanitarian Parole
  2. Habeas Corpus Claims
  3. Class Action Case: Hernandez Roman
  4. Class Action Case: Fraihat
  5. Release and Post-Release Activism for Lawyers
Confirmed Speakers:  Cost: Free! As such, please consider joining and/or donating to NLG-Los Angeles, NLG-San Francisco Bay Area, or the National Immigration Project of the NLG.

CLE Credit: This course is approved for 2 CLE credits for California lawyers. Attorneys in other states can still attend the workshop, but will have to request CLE credit through their own state bar for attending the presentation. We cannot guarantee that your state will approve the CLE credit. Your state may also require you to pay a fee for submitting this form, which would be your responsibility.

Presented by: NLG-Los Angeles, NLG – San Francisco Bay Area, National Immigration Project of the NLG NLG, and NLG National Office

Statement of Support for Legal Observers Targeted and Brutalized by Police

The Mass Defense Committee (MDC) Steering Committee and NLG National Office have been concerned about an increasing number of reports of police targeting Legal Observers (LOs) in a variety of ways, either with chemical or projectile weapons, physical force and brutality, or arrest and/or questioning. We strongly condemn these actions against any LO and against any participant in the movement for Black lives. The NLG recognizes the brunt of police violence is aimed at Black, Brown, Trans, gender non-conforming people, and that police killing people is a public health pandemic.

We also want to take this moment to let all MDC members and LO volunteers know that we stand in solidarity with you and are here to help and support whenever the police target you in any way. We know that donning our neon green and being clearly marked with “Legal Observer” is both a crucial way of supporting movements in the streets and an easy way to be targeted by the forces that seek to maintain the status quo. This support might look like working with your local chapters to help you figure out your options for dealing with legal, physical health, or mental health needs after surviving police harassment or brutality. It might look like the MDC issuing more public statements decrying police violence and the targeting of LOs. It might look like adapting our mass defense resources to better support LOs in this constantly evolving political moment. It might look like things we have never done before that this political moment calls for.

We want to be in continual communication with all our members and volunteers so we can best help every NLG effort be an effective part of supporting movements for liberation. Please reach out to Tyler Crawford, Director of Mass Defense, at if you need any support. Chapter leaders and LO coordinators should also reach out as needed, as no one needs to be alone in responding to police violence.

We also wanted to highlight a few of the many resources we have found helpful for addressing the trauma that the police inflict on those who dare to take the streets and struggle for liberation (see below).

In solidarity,
MDC Steering Committee and NLG National Office 

Further Resources Physical Health

OH  SHIT, We’re Gonna Get Sprayed! Surviving Chemical Weapons at  Protests by Boston’s Digital Street  Medic. (A  pamphlet covering ways of protecting against and treating chemical  weapons such as pepper spray and tear gas.)

The Number One Crowd Control Weapon is Fear! by Boston’s Digital Street  Medic. (A one-page handout with reminders about how to protect against and treat chemical weapons.)

Stay Healthy So You Can Stay in the Streets by Boston Area Liberation Medic (BALM) Squad. (A two-page pamphlet offering suggestions on how to prepare for going out into the streets, tend to your physical needs, treat minor injuries, and prepare for arrest.)

Mental Health

Everything is AWFUL and I’m Not Okay: Questions to Ask Before Giving Up on Yourself by University of Colorado—Colorado Springs (UCCS) Wellness Center. (A two-page handout covering questions to ask to check in with yourself         when experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression.)

Activist Trauma and Recovery from (A four-page handout exploring post-traumatic stress disorder, common symptoms, and options for treating it.)

What Helps: Addressing Vicarious Trauma adapted from the Headington Institute. (A  two-page handout exploring vicarious trauma and ways to transform it that was adapted from the Headington Institute, an organization of         psychologists who support humanitarian aid workers. The resources this handout was adapted from are listed next.)

Understanding & Addressing Vicarious Trauma by the Headington Institute. 

Understanding & Addressing Vicarious Trauma: Reflection Questions Workbook by the Headington Institute.

COVID-19 Know Your Rights: A Community Learning Session

Join the NLG and Vision Change Win for this community learning session on your rights during COVID-19!

Wednesday, June 17, 6pm ET / 3pm PT


  • Confused about what your rights are regarding “stay at home” orders and “curfews”?
  • Wondering what national guard and military deployment means for us?
  • Know someone who was arrested due to COVID-19 violations?
  • Want to share strategies for protesting anti-Black racism despite violent police repression and a pandemic?
  • Need help supporting a loved one in immigration detention or prison?

The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening so many oppressed communities. Yet it’s also become a new way to further criminalize Black people and stifle dissent. We believe that our communities can increase public health without criminalization. Join us as we discuss your rights, how to organize against COVID criminalization, and how to support our loved ones.

NLG Statement in Support of #8toAbolition



The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) supports the #8toAbolition campaign, which builds on decades of work by Black feminist abolitionists to demand an end to policing and prisons, and community investment that prioritizes the lives and safety of Black people. 8 to Abolition was created by BIPOC police and prison abolitionists as a response to the reformist changes of the #8CantWait campaign, that merely seek to reduce, instead of eliminate, continuing police violence against Black people.

As the 8 To Abolition website states: “As police and prison abolitionists, we believe that this campaign is dangerous and irresponsible, offering a slate of reforms that have already been tried and failed, that mislead a public newly invigorated to the possibilities of police and prison abolition, and that do not reflect the needs of criminalized communities… Abolition can’t wait.”

The NLG supports the eight demands of the 8 to Abolition campaign:

  1. Defund the Police
  2. Demilitarize Communities
  3. Remove Police From Schools
  4. Free People from Prisons and Jails
  5. Repeal Laws that Criminalize Survival
  6. Invest in Community Self-Governance
  7. Provide Safe Housing for Everyone
  8. Invest in Care Not Cops

The NLG is an explicitly abolitionist organization. In 2015, the NLG passed a resolution that calls for the “dismantling and abolition of all prisons and of all aspects of systems and institutions that support, condone, create, fill, or protect prisons.”  The NLG understands that reforms are not enough and the principles of 8 to Abolition are consistent with the those that have been adopted by Guild membership.

“The carceral state builds on this country’s history of slavery and colonization and is intrinsically intertwined to all systems where people are held against their will through coercion, force, or threat of force. As such, we call for the abolition not just of prisons and jails, but also police lock­ups, juvenile detention facilities, immigration detention facilities, and hospitals or nursing homes where people are held against their will,” said NLG Executive Director Pooja Gehi.

8 to Abolition also acknowledges that abolition is a disability issue. “Half of the people killed by police are disabled. The intersection of Blackness and disability means that Black disabled people are especially likely to be victims of state violence, including through police, incarceration, mental health facilities, and other institutions,” NLG Disability Justice Committee co-chair Katie Tastrom said.

The NLG is grateful for the work of the 8 to Abolition authors and the Black feminist abolitionists who paved the way for this moment and who continue to lead the police and prison abolition movement.


Police Targeting NLG Legal Observers at Black Lives Matter Protests



Since protests have spread to all 50 states in response to the police murders of George Floyd and countless other Black people, law enforcement has responded with a violent show of force against protestors as well as journalists, street medics, and legal support. Multiple National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Legal Observers (LOs) have been arrested or injured while monitoring demonstrations against racialized police brutality. The NLG strongly condemns this attack on Legal Observers, who attend protests to document police activity and ensure demonstrators’ legal rights. Guild LO’s wear neon green hats and other paraphernalia with the label “NLG Legal Observer” to identify their role, but this visibility has also made them a target for police. 

In the past week, police have arrested, attacked, and tear gassed LOs in a least a dozen cities. In Sacramento, LO Danny Garza was shot in the face with a rubber bullet while covering local demonstrations, and hospitalized due to a concussion. A Bay Area LO was shot with high speed impact munition by police in Oakland, and a San Jose LO suffered multiple contusions from rubber bullets. While legal observing in Chicago, Guild member Michael Drake was knocked to the ground and beaten with batons by at least five officers simultaneously before being arrested. Several LOs in Detroit were beaten with batons, punched, tear gassed and then arrested while trying to take names from arrested protesters. Multiple LOs in various cities have been detained or arrested for monitoring protests after the start of arguably illegal curfews, including Washington D.C. and New York City. Most charges against LOs include disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and breaking curfew.

Reports from NLG chapters in multiple cities lead us to conclude that police are intentionally targeting LOs. In Atlanta, LOs Megan Harrison and Asia Parks were arrested and held for 17 hours before being released. According to Harrison, she was walking down a line of protesters linking arms, taking names and dates of birth in case of arrest. When police attacked the crowd, she heard “get the girl in the green hat,” before being grabbed from behind and forcibly arrested. In Des Moines, LO Ryan Krause was physically detained by a group of police who tried to take his notes and called legal observation “suspicious activity” and “harassment.” In Kansas City, several LOs were physically shoved and pepper sprayed by police, while being told their “credentials would not protect them.” 

“The targeting of NLG LOs goes right to the heart of why we do this work. While the police enforce the law on protesters, who is there to monitor the police? The intentional targeting of NLG Legal Observers by the police is a showing of confidence and hubris that they expect to remain unaccountable,” said Garza. 

NLG Legal Observers are a core part of the NLG Mass Defense program, which began in 1968. For the past 50+ years the Guild has provided legal support designed to enable people to express their political views as fully as possible without unconstitutional disruption or interference by the police. The NLG will be putting the full support of our network of thousands of legal professionals into assisting protesters, including our LOs and the many journalists and street medics who have also been arrested or injured during these police riots

We are deeply grateful to our LOs on the ground, and Guild members and staff are following up with LOs arrested or injured to assist with possible legal, physical, and mental health needs. We affirm our ongoing support for Black organizers and activists who continue to face the greatest amount of violence, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement. 

NLG Resources:

Image: NLG Legal Observer arrested by Atlanta Police, June 1 (John Bazemore/AP).

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.


NLG Statement on the President’s Unlawful Declaration of Antifa as a Domestic Terrorist Organization


In the long history of protest, governments have often sought to discredit political activists who challenge the status quo. President Donald Trump’s recent declaration, that “Antifa”—shorthand for “anti-fascist”—is a domestic terrorist organization, is no departure from this tradition. As protests continue to erupt around the country in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer on May 25, people of all classes, races, genders, and political orientations are expressing outrage and grief in the streets and on social media. The demonstrators have been repeatedly and violently attacked by heavily militarized police departments using an array of tactics—including chemical weapons during a global pandemic—against people in the streets. In an effort to shift blame away from legitimate calls for racial justice and the violent police response to protests, the President is using his bully pulpit to obscure the fact that these demonstrations are supported by a broad majority of Americans.

The term Antifa originates in the 1930s when progressive activists organized to oppose far-right authoritarianism emerging throughout the world. In recent history, some have re-adopted the phrase as a political orientation opposed to the re-emergent ultranationalism in the US and throughout Europe and Latin America. Contrary to the suggestions of Trump and many of the right-wing politicians who support his presidency, Antifa has no leaders and it is not a formal organization, although activists who identify with the term often favor direct action instead of policy reform, as well as autonomous  mutual aid. It is not clear who or what the targets of a federal Antifa investigation would be, and whether such an effort would be lawful.

“When police continue to murder Black people with impunity and when calls for systemic change to policing and structural racism are ignored, popular unrest is inevitable,” said National Lawyers Guild legal worker Kris Hermes. “Federal investigations and the targeting of Antifa will unfortunately result in increased surveillance and repression, and must be resisted.”

While the Department of Justice (DOJ) can indict people on federal terrorism charges, no clear legal authority exists for the President to designate Antifa a “domestic terrorist organization.” Nevertheless, Attorney General William Barr quickly followed Trump’s declaration with an official statement announcing that the DOJ would use its existing network of 56 FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) offices to investigate Antifa. DOJ investigations will only serve to harass protesters and provide the state with additional means to prosecute political activists. The Trump administration’s threats are nothing more than political theater and an attempt to sow division and intimidate those who exercise their right to fight injustice.

“Trump’s declaration that Antifa is a domestic terrorist organization has no basis in fact or law and is merely an attempt to criminalize ordinary people who are exercising their right to protest,” said NLG Mass Defense Director Tyler Crawford. “The NLG condemns any such attempts by the government to interfere with the right of the people to have their voices heard in demanding justice for George Floyd and an end to racist police violence.”

The NLG will continue to oppose any attempts to exploit this crisis to repress political activism and social justice movements working to end to white supremacy. The Trump administration continues to ignore the ongoing injustice wrought on Black communities by institutional racism, including police brutality, in favor of seeking to physically or politically punish those who are part of anti-racist and anti-fascist movements. The NLG will continue to provide legal support to activists as they take to the streets to call for justice for George Floyd, from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. and many other cities.

Related Links & Resources:

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.


NLG Condemns Violent Police Response to Black Lives Matter Protests Nationwide

Scroll down for additional links and resources.



NOTE: As this press release was being published, we learned about James Scurlock, a 22-year-old Black man, shot and killed during a protest last night in Omaha, NE by an alleged white supremacist yelling racial slurs. Support the Scurlock family at this GoFundMe here.

Spurred by the uprising in Minneapolis last week in response to the police killing of George Floyd, demonstrations took place in more than 75 cities over the weekend of May 29-31 as thousands of people protested to demand an end to racialized police violence and justice for Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others. National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Chapters across the country have mobilized to provide legal support to these people’s movements and will continue to do so for as long as necessary. As a grassroots organization led by volunteer members who take direction from movements on the ground, we remain committed to the struggle for Black lives and an end to white supremacy.

“Racialized, violent policing of Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies has always existed in this country. Now is the time for accountability. Property can always be replaced. Black lives can not,” stated NLG Executive Director Pooja Gehi.

The unwarranted and excessively violent police reaction to demonstrators was strikingly similar across protests: NLG attorneys and Legal Observers consistently report accounts of police attacking people with batons and bicycles, running protesters down with horses and police vehicles, and freely deploying tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades. In addition to both mass and targeted arrests of protesters, police also arrested journalists, legal observers, medics, and bystanders. Multiple NLG Legal Observers, clearly visible in bright green caps, were injured by police as they monitored the demonstrations.

By late Saturday, mayors and governors began calling in the military and National Guard, and imposing curfews in an attempt to shut down protests. Currently, more than 40 cities are under curfew and the National Guard has been activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C. In Minneapolis, video footage of National Guard and state troopers shutting down streets and attacking people on their porches went viral. In Chicago, police violently surrounded and mass arrested demonstrators. “The Chicago Police rioted. Police violently attacked hundreds if not thousands of people demanding an end to police violence. This response was unacceptable and unnecessary,” the NLG Chicago Chapter and Chicago Community Bond Fund said in a joint statement yesterday.

Video and witness accounts indicate that far right nationalists and white supremacists were in attendance at many of the demonstrations, further stoking conflict by brandishing guns and arrows. Rather than condemning these actions, Trump has instead attacked left-wing activists and declared he will designate antifa a terrorist organization.

The number of arrests continues to grow. While many have been detained, not all have been charged and processed, making it difficult to give exact arrest numbers. However, NLG chapters report arrests in almost all cities, ranging from a few dozen to nearly 1,000 depending on location. As of now, protesters are being charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and failure to disperse. NLG Chapters have been continuously providing Legal Observers, running legal support hotlines, tracking arrests, and coordinating representation for those arrested.

The NLG denounces the violent and in many cases openly racist attacks of the police. In solidarity with movements for Black lives, the family of George Floyd, and all victims of racialized police violence, we are demanding a full, transparent, and independent investigation into his murder and the Minneapolis Police Department. We also call for investigations into the many law enforcement officers who have been documented brutalizing protesters this weekend, as well as all police officers who have records of complaints for violence. Finally, we call for the defunding and demilitarizing of the police, an investment in community resources including housing, healthcare and income and reparations for the families of those murdered. Please read, sign and share this petition from Black Lives Matter to #DefundThePolice.

Donations to the NLG Mass Defense Program can be made at


Statements by Local NLG Chapters and How to Help:

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.


Featured Image: Minneapolis police outside the Third Precinct in Minneapolis. Firing tear gas at those protesting the May 25th death of George Floyd.  Chad DavisCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

NLG in Solidarity with Minneapolis Following Police Killing of George Floyd



MINNEAPOLIS—The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is in active solidarity with the people of Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by a Minneapolis Police Department officer on May 25. Thousands of people took to the streets in outrage and mourning in the first spontaneous, major protest in the US since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While the Minneapolis Police Department responded violently with chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades, the NLG Minnesota Chapter provided Legal Observers and other legal support to protesters. The NLG is committed to continuing this work as long as protests continue, and beyond.

On Tuesday, demonstrators in Minneapolis gathered at the intersection where Floyd died and marched to the 3rd Police Precinct. Protesters in face masks chanted, “I can’t breathe”—a familiar rallying cry from 2014 protests demanding justice for Eric Garner, after NYPD officers strangled him to death during an arrest. Floyd, like Garner, spent his last moments alive pleading with police for his life as a white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck and refused to stop even after Floyd was unconscious.

During the demonstrations, police in riot gear escalated tensions with protesters, firing tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets at the crowd. Several people, including a journalist, were hit by projectiles.

“The response by Minneapolis Police can best be characterized as a coordinated, militarized, guerilla-style effort. Police in riot gear confronted protesters, including positioning themselves along natural escape routes, and deployed flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas upon protesters,” said Legal Observer Matt DiTullio, a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota Law School.

George Floyd’s death is yet another example of how, even during a global pandemic, racialized police violence continues. Videos of NYPD officers without masks brutally arresting people of color for apparent social distancing violations—in contrast to photographs of officers handing out masks to predominantly white crowds in parks—went viral earlier this month. In April, armed right-wing protesters in Michigan occupied the state capitol with little to no interference from law enforcement to demand an end to social distancing and lockdown measures in the name of “freedom.” In Fresno, CA Councilmember Michael Arias called the police after armed activists protesting quarantine closures went to his home, banged on his door, and attempted to break in with his two young children, police ended up citing him, a Latinx man, for misdemeanor battery.

While the four officers at the scene were immediately fired, Floyd’s family and others are demanding an transparent and independent investigation into the killing. Support the Floyd family via their GoFundMe here and contribute to the Minnesota Freedom Fund working to post arrestees’ bails.

Anti-racist protesters arrested in Minneapolis seeking jail support can call the NLG Minnesota Chapter at 612-444-2654. To support the NLG’s ongoing legal support work, donate to our Mass Defense Program here.

Follow the NLG Minnesota Chapter at

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.


Featured Image: Minneapolis Police fire tear gas at those protesting the May 25th death of George Floyd. Chad DavisCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Member News Digest: Steven Donziger & #AntiChevronDay, Upcoming Webinars, Article on BDS Case, Propose Convention Programming

Browse previous news digests here

5/21/20 | The Intercept | Judge Rules That Attorney Steven Donziger Must Remain Under House Arrest Until September

On #AntiChevronDay, The Intercept gives an update on the case of environmental attorney Steven Donziger, who represented Indigenous people in a decades long legal battle against Chevron. A federal judge has ruled he must remain under house arrest until September, for a total of 13 months, waiting trial on charges that carry a maximum of six months.

The article cites the NLG and IADL letter signed by 70+ organizations demanding #FreeDonziger, #MakeChevronCleanUp & #InvestigateKaplan, and quotes NLG member Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, who is part of his legal team: “We believe Chevron is going after this public interest lawyer because they want to chill and scare other public interest lawyers from ever suing them,” said Regan. “They want to make it so litigants cannot obtain counsel to challenge all the death and poisoning they’ve done around the planet… People are beginning to realize that, if you don’t stand up for people like Steven Donziger, when they come for you, there will be no one left to stand up for you.”

5/18/20: Over 475 lawyers, legal organizations and human rights defenders support lawyer Steven Donziger

“Over 75 organizations, including international legal organizations and major human rights networks, signed on to an open letter released today in support of environmental lawyer Steven Donziger, who has faced nearly unprecedented sanctions from a U.S. federal judge for his pursuit of Chevron for a judgment against the oil giant over its environmental devastation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The letter identifies the case as “one of the most important corporate accountability and human rights cases of our time.”

In 2011, indigenous plaintiffs in the Ecuadorian Amazon received a $19 billion judgment against Chevron for the actions of its predecessor company, Texaco, which spilled over 17 million gallons of crude oil, dumped over 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and left hundreds of open pits throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon. The persecution of Donziger, a lawyer for the indigenous peoples affected, stems directly from Chevron’s attempt to avoid paying the judgment, which was reduced to $9.5 billion in 2013 by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court.” Read the full press release here.

TOMORROW, 5/22: NPAP Webinar: Asking for Damages During a Pandemic

This one-hour program by the National Police Accountability Project of the NLG will feature Debra Cohen and Randolph McLaughlin from New York and Hugh Eastwood from St. Louis, Missouri, discussing approaches to seeking damages during a pandemic.

Register for Friday’s free NPAP webinar here.

5/19/20: NLG Ends Frivolous Lawsuit Attacking its Commitment to BDS Movement

Anti-Palestinian activist and serial litigant David Abrams has voluntarily agreed to dismiss a lawsuit against the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) filed after NLG refused to publish Abrams’ advertisement indicating that Gush Etzion is part of Israel. In fact, Gush Etzion is an illegal settlement on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.

“We’re pleased to end this time-consuming lawsuit for a payment of zero dollars and get back to our urgent work ensuring that vulnerable populations across the globe have access to housing, healthcare, income and other basic human rights,” said Pooja Gehi, NLG executive director. “NLG reaffirms its commitment to Palestinian liberation, including support for Palestinian rights through grassroots tools such as boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).” Read the full NLG press release here.

May 20 | Electronic Intifada | Agent for Israel drops lawsuit against National Lawyers Guild

A lawsuit intended to harass the National Lawyers Guild over its support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights has been voluntarily dismissed by the anti-Palestinian litigant who filed it.

The lawsuit was “part of a global effort, led by Israel, seeking to paint support for Palestinian human rights as discrimination,” according to NLG.

David Abrams, the director of the Zionist Advocacy Center, filed his lawsuit after the civil rights group refused, in 2016, to publish an advertisement in its annual journal for his shadowy company located inside an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. Read the full article here.

Next Wednesday, 5/27: Organizing Socially Responsible Protests: A Virtual Town Hall

With the world now gripped in a battle with a global, deadly pandemic and governments instituting policies that have restricted mass public gatherings, campaigners and activists have been forced to change tactics and shift how they organize and protest to keep each other safe. 

Join Defending Rights & Dissent on Wednesday, May 27 LIVE at 8 PM (ET) as we explore how the world of protest and organizing has changed and how activists can adjust to the new normal in the age of social distancing and policies restricting mass gatherings. We will review the legal terrain for activists to give you an understanding of what the potential obstacles are, case studies of several recent protests, and what are the lessons that can be learned from them. 

Moderated by DRAD policy director Chip Gibbons, this town hall will feature Chinyere Tutashinda, Co-Director of BlackOUT Collective; Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Co-Founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund; Nick Robinson, Legal Advisor for the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL); Tyler Crawford, Mass Defense Director at the National Lawyers Guild; and NeeNee Taylor, Core Organizer for Black Lives Matter DC. Register here!

#Law4thePeople 2020 Digital Convention: Call for Major Panels, Workshops, Award Nominations, and Resolutions!

ATTN: NLG MEMBERS! The proposal period for major panels and workshops, award nominations, and resolutions is NOW OPEN! For the latest  #Law4thePeople news, join the Facebook event. All NLG convention news is also available at

5/19/20: NLG & WPLC Joint Statement of Solidarity with Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe

“The National Lawyers Guild and Water Protector Legal Collective stand in solidarity with the governments of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (the territorial government of Mnicoujou, Itazipco, Siha Sapa, and Oohenumpa people of the Lakota Nation) and the Oglala Sioux Tribe (the territorial government of the Oglala people of the Lakota Nation) in their efforts to protect their nations’ citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing health checkpoints within the jurisdictional boundaries of their territories. We call on South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to respect these Indigenous Nations’ sovereign right to do so.”

Read the full NLG WPLC statement here.

5/14/20: [VIDEO] “Fighting for Housing Justice: Movement Lawyers and Housing Activists on COVID-19 and the Urgent Struggle for Homes for All” Webinar

Thank you to the nearly 500 of you who registered for last week’s webinar organized by the NLG Housing & Homelessness Committee! In case you missed it, would like to watch again, and/or share with your friends and colleagues, the recording of the webinar is available for streaming here!

It was a deeply powerful discussion that revealed the causes of the current housing crisis and how communities are fighting back—which panelists emphasized existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. As panelist and housing organizer Kenia Alcocer invited us to consider: “How do we turn this moment into political power and grow collective consiousness?” Watch the full webinar now!  Additional NLG webinars are available here.

5/14/20 | Fresno Bee | Fresno residents show support for councilman, after scuffle on apartment doorstep Last week, a group of Second Amendment activists protesting quarantine closures went to the home of Councilmember Michael Arias in Fresno, CA banged on his door, and attempted to break in—while his two young children were inside. The incident ended with police giving him citations for misdemeanor battery, after they allowed the protesters to make a “citizen’s arrest” of Arias. The NLG-Central Valley Chapter expressed their support for the Councilmember: “The National Lawyers Guild stands in solidarity with Councilmember Arias against all forms of white supremacy. We are concerned that when Mr. Arias called for help, what happened was he was the one given citations when police arrived. There’s a long history in the United States that continues to today of people of color calling the police seeking help and are the targets of police violence,” said NLG Central Valley President Mariah C. Thompson. 5/21/20 | Fresno Bee | Commentary: Fresno police show racism in the arrest of City Council President Arias  more here:

Mariah C. Thompson and fellow NLG Central Valley member Kathryn E. Forbes followed up with this op-ed in the Fresno Bee, highlighting how the incident relates speaks to the racist history and origins of policing in the US and the problematic nature of “citizen’s arrests”: 

“The police officers’ actions reflect a long history of institutionalized racism within policing and illustrate the ways police officers continue to fortify white supremacy through state-sanctioned violence […] By their own admission, the FPD were the ones who suggested that the racist agitators make a citizen’s arrest. In addition to raising legal questions, this legitimized the agitators’ invocation of law enforcement authority to criminalize a man of color while simultaneously framing the criminalization of Arias as a decision made by the public rather than one made by police, therefore allowing FPD to evade responsibility.”

Read more here: 5/16/20 | Truthout | Cuba’s Resilience Through Economic Crisis Prepared It for COVID Health Crisis

NLG past president Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan has been in Cuba since early March, when the world started to take COVID-19 seriously. She reports in Truthout how the country’s approach to managing the pandemic is so starkly different from that of the US:

“The failure of many states to prevent, protect against and help contain an illness that was known about for months shows how concerns over loss of capital took priority over our lives. And it is this capitalist approach to administering government that is perpetuating the same harms and ensuring a continuous crisis for communities most devastated by the pandemic of our lifetime.” Read the full article in Truthout here.

NLG Endorses the People’s Strike!

The NLG has endorsed the People’s Strike, a growing coalition of workers, community, and political organizations confronting the COVID-19 pandemic by struggling against inept and corrupt government and the forces of capital (banks, corporations, brokers, etc) that put profit before the people and the planet.

Launched on May 1, the People’s Strike calls for actions the first of every month. View the People’s Strike demands here.

Members-Only Job Board

Are you searching for a movement related legal or organizing job OR internship?

A reminder that all current NLG members have access to our Members-Only job board! This resource includes open positions for attorneys, paralegals, organizers, legal workers and law students.

Check it out at (NOTE: you must be logged in with your account to view this page). Have a job or internship listing you’d like to share with fellow Guild members? Send it to

NLG & WPLC Joint Statement of Solidarity With Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe


Contact: Leoyla Cowboy Giron, Executive Director, WPLC / 805-699-1126 or

Natali Segovia, Chair, NLG Indigenous Peoples Rights Committee / 602-796-7034 or

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) stand in solidarity with the governments of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (the territorial government of Mnicoujou, Itazipco, Siha Sapa, and Oohenumpa people of the Lakota Nation) and the Oglala Sioux Tribe (the territorial government of the Oglala people of the Lakota Nation) in their efforts to protect their nations’ citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing health checkpoints within the jurisdictional boundaries of their territories. We call on South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to respect these Indigenous Nations’ sovereign right to do so.

Sovereignty is an inherent characteristic of all nations, and is ultimately the collective human right of all peoples to freely self-govern and to act on behalf of the best interests of their own citizens and residents. The right to be free of colonial domination and racial or ethnic discrimination are human rights possessed by all peoples and nations long recognized under international law. Further, life, health, and a safe environment are also human rights possessed by each person, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or race. Indigenous people and nations receive inadequate healthcare and have already been found to be at greater risk of harm from the effects of COVID-19, including the rate of death, than the general population. Setting up critical health checkpoints on roads and highways into the territory of Indigenous Nations is vital to the protection of the public health and well within the inherent power of the Indigenous Nations as the sovereign governments of their own territories.

Indigenous Nation sovereignty is ensconced in the law of each Indigenous Nation, recognized in U.S. federal Indian law, and secured in international law and treaty law. It is well established that the State of South Dakota has no jurisdiction over highways that run through the Cheyenne River Sioux, Oglala Sioux, and other reservations in the state. Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. State of S.D., 900 F.2d 1164 (8th Cir. 1990).

Article 16 of the Ft. Laramie Treaty, signed and ratified in 1868, lays out the jurisdictional powers that have been recognized numerous times by the United States through case law, congressional acts and Supreme Court rulings: “[no] persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the [Indian territory]; or without the consent of the Indians first had and obtained, to pass through the same.”

Finally, under international law, Article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as endorsed by the United States, declares that: “in exercising their right to self-determination, [Indigenous peoples] have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs [as part of their right to self-determination equal to that of all other peoples]…”[1]

We reject the attempts of Governor Noem to intentionally and unlawfully diminish the sovereignty of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and urge Governor Noem to work with these Lakota Nation governments in the future, respecting the laws of the United States and international norms that regulate the Nation-to-Nation relationship that exists between the U.S. Government and its state governments with Indigenous governments.

[1] UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295, available at:

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.

WPLC is a Native led nonprofit organization that provides criminal and civil legal representation to Indigenous and other people engaged in Native led environmental actions affecting Native land. Originally formed during the Dakota Access pipeline protest in Standing Rock, WPLC now advocates on behalf of Water Protectors across the country.


NLG Ends Frivolous Lawsuit Attacking BDS Movement



NEW YORK—Anti-Palestinian activist and serial litigant David Abrams has voluntarily agreed to dismiss a lawsuit against the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) filed after NLG refused to publish Abrams’ advertisement indicating that Gush Etzion is part of Israel. In fact, Gush Etzion is an illegal settlement on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.

“We’re pleased to end this time-consuming lawsuit for a payment of zero dollars and get back to our urgent work ensuring that vulnerable populations across the globe have access to housing, healthcare, income and other basic human rights,” said Pooja Gehi, NLG executive director. “NLG reaffirms its commitment to Palestinian liberation, including support for Palestinian rights through grassroots tools such as boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).”

In 2016, Abrams sought to publish an advertisement in NLG’s dinner journal on behalf of a   company, Bibliotechnical Athenaeum, which NLG believes was created in order to submit the advertisement. This ad from an organization located in an illegal Israeli settlement appeared deliberately placed to antagonize NLG for its positions in support of international human rights law. After NLG rejected the ad Abrams sued, first acting as his own attorney, and later represented by the Lawfare Project, a right-wing anti-Palestinian group with a self-described plan to “inflict massive punishments” against critics of Israel.

The suit is part of a global effort, led by Israel, seeking to paint support for Palestinian human rights as discrimination. Abrams alleged that NLG’s rejection of his advertisement was unlawful and pointed to an email which did not correctly reflect NLG’s boycott policy. In fact, NLG’s BDS resolution commits to boycotting institutions actively complicit in the denial of Palestinian rights – not Israeli individuals or organizations.

As part of the settlement, NLG will clarify and reaffirm its policy opposing all forms of discrimination and circulate it to members. NLG will also post an advertisement from Bibliotechnical Athenaeum in its next dinner journal. The new ad will not include the name of Gush Etzion – or any illegal settlement – nor make any claims that such settlements are part of Israel.

“NLG is undeterred in our commitment to boycott institutions that are responsible for human rights violations of Palestinians,” emphasized NLG Director Pooja Gehi.

David Abrams is the executive director of the Zionist Advocacy Center (TZAC), which is a registered foreign agent for the International Legal Forum. Abrams and TZAC are responsible for bringing numerous harassing lawsuits against advocates for Palestinian rights as well as organizations providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The International Legal Forum collaborates with and receives funding from the State of Israel, with the purpose of stopping BDS.

Statements of support by allied organizations:

Center for Constitutional Rights:

Jewish Voice for Peace:

Palestine Legal:

Protect the Protest:,-but-not-the-end-of-injustice/

The National Lawyers Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest progressive bar association and was the first one in the US to be racially integrated. Our mission is to use law for the people, uniting lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests.


New Jersey NLG Stands In Solidarity with #FreeThemAll #DetentionIsDeadly

Contact: Stanley Holdorf, Esq. / 833-654-7526, ext. 1.

Allies everywhere can participate digitally in the 24-hour vigil at Elizabeth, New Jersey Detention Center that begins on Saturday, 5/16/2020 

The Immigration Rights Committee and Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network of the Delaware-New Jersey National Lawyers Guild have endorsed the 24-hour vigil at the Elizabeth Detention Center that begins Saturday, May 16, 2020. The NJ-NLG Mass Defense Committee is providing legal support for the action.

Densely populated ICE detention centers are self-evidently unable to comply with CDC social distancing guidelines or other life-saving public health recommendations, or to afford people inside meaningful opportunities to do so. The approximately 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in ICE detention centers are foreseeable results of the medically endangering conditions in ICE facilities. The recent death of a person detained in San Diego, California’s Otay Mesa Detention Center is emblematic of the urgent need for the immediate release of incarcerated individuals.

The inhumane COVID-19 conditions at detention centers like Elizabeth extend beyond facility walls by inciting terror among undocumented individuals who fear that testing positive for the virus could result in public health reporting that might lead to their own detention. Make the Road New Jersey recently released a report, “Essential and Excluded: Immigrants in New Jersey Under COVID-19,” which is based on telephone surveys with more than 200 immigrants living in New Jersey communities. Of the undocumented survey respondents who reported being sick during the outbreak, one in two said they had not seen a doctor. Sixty-four percent of the New Jersey immigrants surveyed reported that they did not seek medical attention because they were worried about immigration enforcement or unfavorable impact on their status.

This week healthcare workers across the country are hosting a series of vigils to advocate for the release of all people from immigration detention as part of the #FreeThemAll #DetentionIsDeadly campaign.  Campaign vigils are planned in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, Michigan, and California.

This weekend’s #FreeThemAll #DetentionIsDeadly vigil at New Jersey’s Elizabeth Detention Center demands the immediate release of individuals from that facility, where 18 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19. The vigil also stands in solidarity with the families of those confined in Elizabeth, who lack means to determine the health status of their loved ones due to the detention center’s suspension of visitation and telephone communications.

Emeka Iloegbu is one of the vigil’s organizers. Emeka is a Clinical Laboratory Scientist in the Hematology section of New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a Master’s of Science in Forced Migration from Columbia University. “For the last three years, I have worked on a number of projects that focused on designing and implementing public health assessments and developing healthcare programs in southern Arizona communities that are near the U.S.-Mexico Border. This vigil is my way of challenging the harsh realities that migrants and asylum seekers are facing in this country in these fragile times. This demonstration seeks to build community awareness and solidarity, and to increase public pressure on ICE and detention facility officials to uphold the rights of detained people to humane treatment.”

The 24-hour vigil outside of the Elizabeth, New Jersey Detention Center will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 16, 2020. To observe CDC social distancing guidelines, on-site participants will stand more than six feet apart and wear masks, or remain in their cars. Those who would like to join the on-site vigil can email Emeka Iloegbu at for location details.

Those who would like to show solidarity and support remotely can participate digitally in events throughout the day, which will be live streamed on the Facebook pages of the vigil’s organizers: and

Scheduled events include:

11:00 a.m.:  Organizers will provide an overview of the #FreeThemAll #DetentionIsDeadly campaign and the inhumane COVID-19 conditions at Elizabeth Detention Center.

11:15 a.m.:  Poem reading

8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.: Candle lighting ceremony and vigil.  On-site participants will read the names of those who have died in detention.

11:15 p.m.:  Live streamed check-in with the #FreeThemAll #DetentionIsDeadly vigil in Sacramento, California.

Throughout the day there will also be other events such as letter writing to detained individuals and reflective activities honoring those who have died in detention. Digital participants can actively participate in these events.

In observance of the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies for Communities, NJ-NLG members are providing 24-hour legal support for the action through telephonic on-call attorney services and digital legal observing for this important event.

Tyler Crawford, the National Lawyers Guild Director of Mass Defense, said, “The 24-hour vigil at the Elizabeth Detention Center is an important reminder of the life and death challenges currently facing incarcerated people. It is also a reminder that we need to continue organizing during the pandemic, and an inspiring example that proves it is possible to do so.”

Stanley Holdorf, the supervising attorney of the Delaware-New Jersey NLG chapter’s Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network, shares this concern for people confined in the state. “At least 41 prisoners incarcerated in New Jersey Department of Corrections facilities have died of complications caused by COVID-19. That is the highest number of state prisoner deaths from COVID-19 in the United States.  The New Jersey Governor issued Executive Order 124 on April 10, 2020 to release state prisoners who are medically vulnerable or nearing their release date. Five weeks later, only an estimated 5% of the New Jersey state prisoners who are eligible for immediate release under Executive Order 124 have been freed. Incarcerated people don’t need political showmanship. They need action. Executive Order 124 is just one more example of government agencies bending to public pressure through hollow initiatives that are not meaningfully enacted. Rather than professing his commitment to humane conditions of confinement during the COVID-19 outbreak, Governor Murphy should take responsibility for the immediate and comprehensive implementation of the Orders he issues. The vigil at Elizabeth Detention Center is an important reminder to government officials that confined people need action, not rhetoric.”

Call for 2020 Convention Programming

Call for Proposals: Major Panels and Workshops
DEADLINE: June 15, 2020

The NLG 2020 Law for the People Convention will be held digitally from Monday, September 21-Sunday, October 4. Unlike our usual five-day format, we’re spreading out events over two weeks to allow participants across multiple time zones to attend as many events as possible. Even if attendees aren’t available to join every event live in real time, registrants will be able to access video recordings of programming to watch and engage with at their convenience.

We are currently seeking proposals for Major Panels and Workshops. Major Panel applications not accepted will be automatically considered for workshop slots. Major Panels are 75 minutes long and fewer in number than workshops (60 minutes). Both major panels and workshops will be scheduled on weekday evenings or the weekend of October 3-4.

Please consider applying and forward widely! We encourage NLG members, committees, and entities to coordinate with local allied organizations/activists in submitting proposals. If you have any questions about convention programming or the selection process, please email Traci Yoder at

Apply for a Major Panel Apply for a Workshop

Call for 2020 Award Nominations

Call for Nominations: Goodman, C.B. King, and Legal Worker Awards
DEADLINE: June 15, 2020

We are opening the nomination period for Ernie Goodman, C.B. King (Law Student), and Legal Worker Awards. Please consider nominating a Guild attorney, law student, or legal worker who you have worked with! See below for details on each award. Please email Traci Yoder at with any questions about the awards or the nomination process.


Each year at the National Lawyers Guild Convention, the Ernie Goodman Award is awarded to a Guild lawyer whose career and life’s work engaged them in legal struggle against financial, political or social odds to obtain justice on behalf of those who are poor, powerless or persecuted (or, most likely, a combination of these). The Guild lawyer receiving the award shall be selected by the National Lawyers Guild Goodman Award selection committee.

Please provide the following information:

  1. List nominee’s name, email address, and (roughly) how long the person has been a Guild member.
  2. Name of nominating person(s) and your relationship to nominee
  3. Reasons why the Guild member nominee meets the award qualifications, such as examples from the lawyer’s body of work over the course of their lives

Please mark “Goodman Award” in the subject line and send nominations by June 15, 2020 to Executive Director Pooja Gehi at


2020 C.B. KING AWARD NOMINATION (Law Student Award)

Each year at the National Lawyers Guild national convention, the National Office gives the C.B. King Award to a law student whose commitment to justice is an example to others. The student furthers the mission of the Guild and honors the memory of C.B. King through organizing and agitating on academic and local levels. Throughout their time at the NLG, this person has demonstrated the kind of skill and passion that inspires other members and significantly contributes to our organization.

Please provide the following information:

  1. List nominee’s name, email address, and phone number; law school, graduation year, and (roughly) how long the person has been a Guild member.
  2. Name of nominating person(s) and your relationship to nominee (e.g., fellow chapter member, professor, and how long you have known the person).
  3. List and describe Guild chapter(s), committees and/or projects in which the nominee is involved and their role
  4. What qualities most stand out about the nominee?

Please mark “CB King Award” in the subject line and send nominations by June 15, 2020 to Traci Yoder at


The annual NLG Legal Worker Award is given to a legal worker member of the Guild who has demonstrated leadership in the organization marked by one or more notable accomplishments and recognized by their peers. Legal workers are “any person who is currently working, or who has worked, or who is training to work in any office, collective, or other institution which has as its primary function the provisions or administration of legal services, information or education; or who, as an individual, provides or administers legal services, information, or education as a major component of her or his work.”

Please provide the following information:

  1. List nominee’s name, email address, and (roughly) how long the person has been a Guild member.
  2. Name of nominating person(s) and your relationship to nominee
  3. What NLG projects and activities is the nominee involved with and how have they added to the work of the Guild?
  4. Examples of leadership and of a commitment to social justice

Please mark “Legal Worker Award” in the subject line and send in your nominations to Traci Yoder at by June 15, 2020.