Published January 14, 2015
Thousands of police will be watching protesters for any sign of trouble during the G-8 Summit (search) this week. A handful of activists will be watching back.
About two dozen people were trained Sunday as "legal observers" by the National Lawyers Guild (search), a New York-based group that supports mass demonstrations. Their job: Gather information that could be used to defend anyone arrested while protesting the Group of Eight meeting.
Steckley Lee, a law student at the University of Florida, told volunteers to photograph or take notes on almost everything that police do while around activists in town for the summit, which begins Tuesday on nearby Sea Island (search).
"We're looking for anything that may be important later in court — arrests, harassment, recording, videotaping," she said during the training session at Coastal Georgia Community College, a hub for summit protesters.
Observers, however, shouldn't interfere with any civil disobedience or report actions by demonstrators, she said.
"It's not our job to document criminal activity. That's the job of the police," she told a class. Graduates got lime-green baseball caps to make them stand out in a crowd.
One activist volunteered to serve as an observer after seeing the heavy police presence when she and other protesters crossed a bridge Saturday to end a 140-mile march from Florida to Brunswick.
"There was a SWAT team under us, a helicopter over us, cop cars all around. It was insane," said Laura Johnson of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Thomas Mazur, a spokesman with the Secret Service, said the heavy security is designed to ensure "a safe and secure environment."
Some of the legal observers used their training almost immediately. They rushed to a church being used as a headquarters for activists posting summit news on the Internet when told that military humvees were parked outside. The soldiers showed up during the morning service at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, and one went inside briefly to worship.
"It's nothing but harassment," said Carol Bass of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition.
The Rev. Zack Lyde, an associate pastor at St. John, didn't mind the soldier joining his congregation. He was angry about the hundreds of police cars and military vehicles cruising around town, though.
"They've been running the streets since they got here," Lyde said. "They're spreading terror like mayonnaise."