Portland's anti-Trump protesters may draw a worldwide gaze. But Kasia Rutledge won't be watching them. Instead, she'll be monitoring the actions of the Portland Police Bureau.
Rutledge works as a public defense lawyer. But she moonlights as a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild. Since 1968, at the height of anti-Vietnam War protests, the NLG has been watching political demonstrations nationwide, trying to spot police brutality and provide a third-party account.
NLG observers will be marching alongside anti-Trump protesters this weekend. Rutledge sat down with WW to discuss what she'll be looking for.
WW: What protests do you monitor?
Kasia Rutledge: Any time somebody asks us—well, not any time. When local organizations ask us to provide legal-observer support, as long as their protests aren't something contrary to our values, then we attend. In the wake of Ferguson and the murder of unarmed black men across this country, there have been quite a lot of Black Lives Matter protests here in Portland that have been big that we have observed for. But over the years, we've observed for many, many, many protests.
How do you know where to expect confrontations between police and protesters?
We generally have a sense of when police are going to escalate a situation. We are just monitoring the police use of force. Particularly excessive use of force. We are monitoring for any commands they are giving or not giving. What physicality they are having with the person that they are attempting to arrest.
What's the danger you're going to be arrested yourself?
We train our legal observers about the risks of legal observing. We try and keep ourselves safe. At one of the more recent anti-Trump protests, we had legal observers arrested. It's something we hope police don't engage in. Arrests of legal observers signals a scary proposition in terms of them not wanting to be monitored by us. But we understand there is a risk.
What's the most outrageous thing you've seen as a monitor?
At a lot of the recent anti-Trump post-election protests, the police have escalated their use of force using "less than lethal" ammunition against protesters: beanbags, pepper spray, grenades that produce sound and disruption. It's always disturbing that the police gear up in riot gear for every single protest they attend. It's always a militarized police force we are dealing with.