As discussed about Legal Observers play a crucial role in monitoring police behaviour at protests. This can involve documenting (with photos or video evidence) police who attend without wearing proper identification, capturing evidence of instances of police brutality or violence.
Given the wide ownership of digital cameras and internet connected telephones, basically every protest attendee (and spectator) now plays the role of observer. Footage from protest incidents can be taken and uploaded to youtube or other file sharing or social media sites almost instantaneously.
These technological changes shift the role of Legal Observers - it has become less crucial to personally document and record all incidents. The role becomes more about finding, collating and putting into a manageable format all the pictures and videos which are circulating in cyberspace.
This proliferation of protest footage on the internet raises a number of related issues, especially in relation to activist privacy. Be aware that police will go through and monitor photos and footage on the internet in order to investigate any illegal actions at protests and to more broadly profile protest movements. Similarly, there are questions around the use of such footage in court, especially if the original producer of the footage can’t be tracked down to authenticate it. Therefore the Legal Support Team downloads footage to use as evidence in court, also seek to make best efforts to track down the producer of the footage.
Monitoring police violence will also involved collecting the personal details and contact details of people who have experienced police violence and harassments and of any witnesses and of witnesses who may have recorded the indecent. Ideally, the Legal Observers would be able to collect an immediate statement from people affected or witnesses about the event. Testimony which is taken immediately is generally seen as more credible in court. However, in some situations given the level of violence and chaos it may not be possible to do this. Then it might be appropriate to refer people needing to make statements to the legal Support Office if there are people available there to take statements or to simply collect details, so that the Legal Support Team can get in touch with them later.
Case study: Occupy Melbourne eviction
During the eviction of Occupy Melbourne from City Square large numbers of protesters were assaulted and harassed by police. It quickly became clear that it was impossible for the Legal Observer to document all these incidents or even get in contact with everyone who had been assaulted.
The Legal Observers attempted to get in touch with people who had experienced police violence, and in many cases referred them to the Legal Support Office where other volunteers were able to state initial statements. In other cases the Legal Observers took down people’s details.
In the aftermath of the eviction the Legal Support Team organised evening legal clinics to take statements from people who witnessed or experienced police violence or arrest. The people whose names had been taken by Leal Observers were all contacted by email or phone and encouraged to make an appointment to make a statement. The clinic were however advertised more broadly on website, social media etc so that other people who had experienced or witnessed police violence or arrest and hadn’t had previous contact with the Legal Support Team could also make appointments to come along. The Legal Clinics operated almost every night for the first week, then three times a week for a period and until they decreased in frequency and stopped.