NLG-NYC attorneys challenge NYPD surveillance of Muslim communities

NLG-NYC attorneys filed a motion in Federal Court on Monday challenging the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim communities, arguing that this program violates the Handschu guidelines.

The Handschu agreement, named for lead plaintiff, Barbara Handschu, was the result of a 1971 class action suit over the harassment of activist groups by the police’s “Red Squad”.  The lawsuit led to a set of Federal regulations governing police investigations of political activists and religious groups.  NLG-NYC attorneys Martin R. Stolar and Franklin Siegel, along with attorneys Paul Chevigny, Jethro Eisenstein and Arthur Eisenberg, have been the attorneys on the case for over 40 years. Both Martin and Franklin are past presidents of the NLG-NYC.

Read more about the court filing and Handshu v. Special Services Division here.

Links to press coverage by the NY Times

Link to coverage by the Huffington Post

Link to coverage by the New York Law Journal

NLG-NYC Responds to Village Voice article “Bail is Busted: How Jail Really Works”

(Download a PDF of the letter.)

May 9, 2012

Village Voice
36 Cooper Square
New York, New York 10003

Re: April 25, 2012 “Bail is Busted: How Jail Really Works”

To the Editors,

The National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter (“NLG-NYC”) welcomes The Village Voice’s coverage of the daily injustices of the NYC bail system, especially for poor and working class people of color. However, your article contains several factual errors and misconceptions about the work of the NLG-NYC and the invaluable contributions of the Legal Aid Society both in representing Occupy Wall Street arrestees and in the day-to-day efforts to represent indigent arrestees.

First, the NLG-NYC has been working collaboratively with the Legal Aid Society to represent Occupy demonstrators in criminal proceedings almost since Occupy began last fall. Attorneys from the Legal Aid Society have been working tirelessly on defending Occupy arrestees. While the NLG-NYC is proud of our own work, we are equally proud of our colleagues at the Legal Aid Society who have also represented Occupy arrestees while at the same time continuing their great work on behalf of the many hundreds of people arrested each day in New York City. They go above and beyond the call of duty every single day on behalf of all of their clients, most of whom are targets of a racist NYPD that engages in predatory policing against African-American, Latino, Asian, and Arab communities through its unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program. It was erroneously reported that indigent criminal defendants are not provided with legal counsel, when in fact, indigent persons are constitutionally guaranteed a right to counsel in most criminal cases and are indeed provided with counsel through the Legal Aid Society and other institutional providers.

Second, NLG-NYC attorneys, legal workers, law students, and jailhouse lawyers work in virtually every field of law, not only the mass defense of demonstrators. Our over 800 members work in day-to-day criminal defense (both in private practice and within institutional providers such as the Legal Aid Society), civil rights, disability rights, police misconduct, and family, housing, public benefits, immigration, military, environmental, and labor and employment law. We also engage in public education. The NLG-NYC’s Street Law program has facilitated dozens of “Know Your Rights” workshops to youth of color and provided to them information and resources on handling encounters with the police. Since the revelations last October by the Associated Press about the NYPD’s illegal domestic surveillance program against Muslim communities, the NLG-NYC’s Muslim Defense Project has conducted similar workshops in mosques and masjids throughout the city. NLG-NYC members are also fighting for the freedom of Black Liberation Movement political prisoners incarcerated for decades in New York prisons (including Sundiata Acoli, Jalil Muntaquim, Herman Bell, Robert Seth Hayes, and David Gilbert) and for the freedom of all political prisoners (including our organization’s national Jailhouse Lawyer Vice-President, Mumia Abu Jamal). As an organization dedicated to the principle that “human rights are more sacred than property interests,” the NLG-NYC stands in solidarity with and in support of all movements for racial, social, and economic justice in NYC and beyond.


National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter Executive Committee




March 19, 2012

The Mass Defense Coordination Committee (MDCC) of the National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter condemns the violent mass arrest of over 90 peaceful protesters in Zuccotti Park on March 17th, 2012. Over 1,000 people lawfully assembled in Zuccotti Park as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s six-month anniversary celebration. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) surrounded the park, declared the park closed, cleared the park of all demonstrators, and again surrounded it entirely with barricades. The park remained closed through early Monday afternoon.

Witnesses consistently described the clearing of the park as a “police riot.” Photographs by news journalists reveal scores of people being beaten, many while in handcuffs. Video footage on Twitter and elsewhere shows police smashing a medic’s head into a glass door with such force that the plate glass fractures. At least 6 people were hospitalized. In a now internationally publicized incident, a young woman had an epileptic seizure as she was being arrested, and was further injured by police as she lay handcuffed and convulsing in the street. Many protesters were released in the middle of the night, after having been held for over 20 hours without being given any food. Many were held for over 24 hours, and then released without being charged, while others had all charges entirely dismissed. Many were still waiting to be arraigned more than 40 hours later.

The MDCC calls for a broader recognition of NYPD’s policies and practices, which routinely subject many residents to excessive force and spurious arrest. Communities of color, transgender people, the homeless, those with physical and mental health disabilities, and religious minorities continue to be subject to indiscriminate arrest and hostile policing by the NYPD. That policing, which includes the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices and the infiltration, surveillance, and entrapment of Muslim communities, is less frequently witnessed by the media, but is a constant reality for the most vulnerable residents of New York City. The NYPD’s egregious behavior toward protesters this weekend is merely one highly visible instance of their larger program of the arbitrary and brutal behavior that disrupts the health and welfare of communities city-wide. Such alarming behavior on the part of law enforcement must end.

We demand attention to these repressive, hostile and violent practices, including a federal investigation into the policies and practices of the NYPD under the auspices of Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg. Without critical scrutiny of NYPD policy and practice, the safety of New York City’s residents is more compromised than protected by the police.

The National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.

Support the NLG-NYC’s Street Law Team!

The vitality of the NLG-NYC Street Law Team depends on donations made by supporters like you! We are currently raising funds to keep our Street Law Team Coordinator position funded for the next 12 months. Help us reach our goal of $2,750 to ensure we are able to respond to requests by schools, community groups, churches and other organizations to facilitate Know Your Rights workshops for young people!

Learn more about what we do in this video we created with students from BronxConnect‘s Alternative to Incarceration Program and filmmaker Todd Chandler:

Please support us by donating online below or via mail (we’ve already raised $380, please help us raise an additional $2,370 to reach our goal of $2,750):

Learn more about the Street Law Team and how to request a Know Your Rights workshop for your group!

National Lawyers Guild Calls Twitter Subpoena Improper

Contact: Pat Levasseur [email protected]

February 6, 2012, New York City – A National Lawyers Guild attorney today filed a motion to quash a subpoena issued to Twitter for details on the Twitter account of an Occupy Wall Street protester.

Read a copy of the Motion to Quash here.

“Attempting to use the criminal courts as a tool for a broad investigation into the free speech activity of Occupy protesters is improper and an abuse of subpoena power,” said NLG attorney Martin R. Stolar who is representing Malcolm Harris. “This is an unwarranted invasion into a protester’s right to privacy and an infringement on his Constitutional rights.”

The subpoena was issued to Twitter on January 26 by New York District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance. It demands that Twitter appear in court as a witness in the criminal proceeding against Occupy Wall Street protester, Malcolm Harris and to provide “any and all user information, including email address, as well as any and all tweets posted for the period of 9/15/2011- 12/31/2011” associated with his Twitter account.

Mr. Harris was arrested along with approximately 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters, on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1, 2011. He is charged with disorderly conduct which is a violation: an infringement of the law that is not at the level of seriousness to be considered a crime. The range of dates listed in the subpoena begins two days before the first day of the Occupy Wall Street protests  – over two weeks before the Brooklyn Bridge events when Mr. Harris was arrested.

“There is simply no justification for seeking such a broad swath of electronic data as part of prosecuting a minor charge related to one event on a discreet date. This is yet another example of the City of New York overstepping the boundaries of the law in order to chill the legitimate political expression of critics of government policies,” said Mr. Stolar.

The National Lawyers Guild is providing legal observers and free criminal defense for people in the Occupy movement. The New York City Chapter has provided attorneys in nearly 2,200 arrests since the Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17, 2011.

The National Lawyers Guild is a non-profit federation of lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers. Since 1937, Guild members have been using the law to advance social justice and support progressive social movements to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests. The Mass Defense Committee (MDC) of the New York City Chapter was created in 1968 to provide legal support to the anti-racist and anti-Vietnam war movements. The MDC trains and dispatches legal observers to protect First Amendment rights of expression by documenting police misconduct and arrests of protestors at political demonstrations and coordinates pro bono Guild lawyers to represent protest arrestees in court. More information is available at


PRESS RELEASE: Rights Groups Urge City to Halt Illegal Restrictions at Zuccotti Park

Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 / [email protected]
NLG Contact, Gideon Orion Oliver, 212.766.8050

Rights Groups Urge City to Halt Illegal Restrictions at Zuccotti Park


January 9, 2012 – Arbitrary and inconsistently applied rules and security measures restricting the public’s access to Zuccotti Park violate city zoning laws, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild argued today in a letter to the New York City Department of Buildings.

The groups urge Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri to promptly address the violations and ensure that Zuccotti Park is open and accessible to all members of the public on an equal basis.

“Right now, Zuccotti Park is a public space in name only,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The metal barricades, security checkpoints and selectively enforced rules not only raise serious constitutional concerns, they violate city zoning laws. We expect the city to ensure that the park is managed in a manner consistent with its own laws.”

Metal barricades have encircled Zuccotti Park since the NYPD cleared the Occupy Wall Street encampment there on Nov. 16. The public can only enter the park through two gaps where security personnel selectively subject people to searches.

The groups maintain that these security measures and the constantly changing, selectively enforced and unwritten park rules violate zoning laws, longstanding city policies, and park-owner Brookfield Properties’ legal obligations under a 1968 special zoning permit that established the park as a “permanently open park” for “the public benefit.”

In its letter, the groups present a list of these violations. Among them:

The metal barricades encircling the park violate a city voting law requiring at least 50 percent of the plaza’s frontage be unobstructed with unrestricted access to all walkways through the park.

The barricades and checkpoints interfere with the public’s use and enjoyment of the park, in violation of Brookfield’s legal obligation to maintain the space as a “permanent open park.” People are reluctant to enter an area encircled by metal police barricades.

The barricades constitute a major design modification to the park. Under zoning law, such modifications must go through a city approval process, which has not occurred.

Security personnel have prohibited individuals from bringing an ever-changing list of items into the park, including food, cardboard signs, musical instruments and yoga mats even though the park’s written rules do not prohibit any particular items from entering the park. The written rules only apply to prohibited conduct.

“In a statement issued by Mayor Bloomberg explaining his decision to evict peaceful protesters from Zuccotti Park, the mayor noted that ‘we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws,’” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass. “That is precisely what we are asking the City to do now—comply with its own laws and restore the park to its role as a functioning public space open to all New Yorkers.”

“First Amendment freedoms are particularly vulnerable to selective enforcement by the government,” said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Like the constitution, City zoning law also recognizes that in New York City’s public plazas, members of the public cannot be selectively targeted for the enforcement of patently unreasonable restrictions.”

“Brookfield and the City must remove these restrictions and restore Liberty Park to the people immediately,” said Gideon Orion Oliver, president of the National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter. “Every day they refuse to do so, they compound the irreparable harm they have done – and continue to do – to our First Amendment freedoms.”

In addition to the complaint filed today, others have made similar complaints to the Department of Buildings. The Department of Buildings’ online complaint website shows an open complaint regarding the barricades at Zuccotti Park, and the group “whOWNSspace” states that nearly 100 additional complaints have been filed by other individuals asking the Department of Buildings to investigate the ongoing zoning law violations at the park.

To read the full letter, visit


OWS Activist Legal Working Group to Host Open Forum with NLG-NYC on Tuesday, January 3rd

OWS Activist Legal Working Group (OWS-ALWG) and the National Lawyers Guild-NYC Chapter (NLG-NYC) Invites OWS to the first in a series of open forum meetings

January 3, 2012
5:00 PM – 7:00 PM
56 Walker Street
New York, NY

OWS ALWG wrote:

Come join us and discuss your OWS legal needs with the NLG-NYC Chapter! Come hear an update from NLG-NYC Chapter on the legal front so far!

This meeting is to open up a dialogue between OWS and the NLG-NYC Chapter to get a sense of where OWS might need some legal help and the ways NLG-NYC might be able to help us out.

Did you want to discuss your arrest or criminal case? This is NOT that meeting! (Don’t worry, that meeting is coming soon.)

Did you want to talk about other legal stuff? Police misconduct? Individual property damaged in the raid? Does your working group need legal advice? Then this IS that meeting!

** This open forum will be facilitated by OWS Think Tank – thanks Think Tank!

Questions? Contact OWS ALWG: [email protected]

Need direction? Click below.

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NLG “Know Your Rights” Booklet Now Available in Arabic, NLG-NYC Establishes Muslim Defense Committee

NLG Know Your Rights Booklet in Arabic cover
"Know Your Rights" Booklet Now Available in Arabic

The NLG National Office‘s popular “Know Your Rights” booklet is now available in Arabic and may be downloaded here. The 14-page booklet was published in response to the ongoing unwarranted surveillance of Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities by local and federal law enforcement agencies.  Call the NLG National Office at 212-679-5100 to order a free print copy of the booklet.

The New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG-NYC) recently formed its Muslim Defense Committee to provide legal support to the Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities in the New York metropolitan area and beyond.  Read the Muslim Defense Committee’s November 14, 2011 statement in which it condemns the NYPD and CIA surveillance, harassment, infiltration and persecution of Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities and demands an independent investigation. Learn more about the work of the NLG-NYC’s Muslim Defense Committee by emailing [email protected].