Legal observers are volunteers or community members who attend protests in order to observe and document police activity and arrests. They normally do not participate as demonstrators and can often be identified by their brightly colored vests or hats that say “Legal Observer.” Legal observers may also distribute information on what your legal rights are or remind demonstrators to write a jail support hotline number on their body.
Today, common legal observers who come out to larger events are from the ACLU and the NLG.
If you are planning a more public demonstration and want legal observers to attend, we recommend reaching out to groups who organize legal observer programs with as much notice as possible.
Jail support hotlines are operated by comrades that you can call if you have been arrested while demonstrating. If you are arrested and detained, you will have one short call. Hotline workers can notify bail funds of your arrest, ask jail vigil to be held for you, and contact your support network.
It’s important that you DO NOT share the details of your arrest or what happened prior to your arrest on this call.
Here are some helpful things for you to communicate when calling a hotline from jail:
- How many demonstrators are being held? How many are being held as men? How many are being held as women?
- Is there a marginalized person whose support should be prioritized?
- Is there an arrestee who is aligned with our opposition? Are you being held with anyone that threatens your safety (Abusers, White Supremacists, etc)?
- Will you or anyone being held need medical attention after being released?
- How are the spirits of the group?
- Would you like to receive bail or do you plan to refuse bail?
In Portland we have Mass Defense Hotline
- Mass Defense Non Jail Line: 833-680-1312
- Mass Defense Jail Line: 971-247-1072
Call the non jail line if you have seen an arrest that you believe has not been reported by a legal observer. You can also call the non jail line if you are checking in on a friend who has been arrested or you are planning a demonstration and want the hotline to be staffed at a specific time.
Before you go out you should have a strong jail support plan with a designated person who stays at home to answer calls coming from jail or you should write the number of the jail line on your person. For good measure, write it a couple of different places because the police have been know to wipe phone numbers off of people.
Bail funds are used to keep us out of jail so that we can keep fighting.
Bail funds handle money and are often times the most public facing component of an arrestee support network. Bail fund organizers are entrusted with community money, to keep commitments, and to clearly outline the scope of their particular fund. All bail funds operate differently. It is worth noting that many bail funds sit on a lot of funds on purpose. Large sums of money may be needed on short notice to pay towards emergency bail, court costs, and legal support for our comrades.
In Portland there are Defense Fund PDX, Portland Freedom Fund, and General Defense Committee.
consider rejecting bail
Some people choose to reject bail to sit in solidarity with our imprisoned comrades, avoid the state money, and create a larger disruption to carceral systems by staying in. Conditions may be tolerable enough to consider rejecting bail.
Many times conditions are not tolerable and we fully support you taking care of yourself by getting out as soon as possible. There is no right answer, everyone has a different situation and will experience different forms of oppression. You should also consider the on-going spread of COVID-19 in jails. Ask yourself what’s right for you. We have your back no matter what you chose.
return your bail
If you were bailed by a bail fund, the money will be returned to you. Return this money to the bail fund that bailed you out to keep these funds available for the next comrade who needs it.
Providing on the ground jail support is greeting arrestees with love and support after they are released from jail. Jail support often offers water, cigarettes, snacks, helpful information, and a ride home.
If you decide to provide jail support here are some things to keep in mind:
- Keep arrestee information as private as possible. Don’t spread information about arrestees on social media or post videos of releases.
- You will most likely be next to a police department so talk like the police are listening and warn arrestees to not speak about what happened prior to their arrest.
- Be prepared to encounter all the arrestees who come out, even those who are opposed to our politics.
- Keep your energy grounded and be attuned to your own feelings so you don’t confuse them with what an arrestee is feeling.
- Communicate with our support network and let’s show up for each other.
Legal support groups can help you find a movement-friendly attorney, take notes at your hearings, and help you navigate the complex bureaucratic processes that will be unique to your situation.
Legal support groups can help find an approach that takes into account your political, personal, and legal goals. For more information on this topic, The Tilted Scales Collective is a wonderful resource to look into.
Regardless if you utilize a legal support group it’s good practice to be in communication with legal support groups after your arrest. Your case or charges fall into a larger picture of political repression. Communicating what’s happening with you helps others better understand the landscape so we can more strategically plan. For example, if you receive a warrant let our support network know so that others can prepare for how they will respond.
In Portland, the GDC provides legal support for arrestees:
- Phone 503-442-0866
- Email pdxgdc @ riseup.net
Arrestee support comes in many different forms. Some people form groups to provide a specific support to arrestees. PDX Alliance for Self Care Groups provided meals, food boxes, self care packages, and many other things during the 2020 uprising.
Another way of providing arrestee support is by building strong relationships and prioritizing staying connected to our friends. We can provide a listening ear, run an errand, researching a subject, or watch a funny movie together. Showing up for our friends never needs to be an organized event, it’s just what we do.