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Q&A with Jason Luebbers ’15

October 27, 2014 | Students

On Saturday, October 18, Jason Luebbers ’15 was one of several Moritz law students and alumni who served as legal observers at a “What is Justice? – Rally at the Statehouse.” The Ohio Student Association,  a local student organization that engages in values-based issue and electoral organizing, nonviolent direct action, advocacy for progressive public policy, and leadership development, organized the rally to protest the absence of an indictment  in the shooting death of 22-year-old John Crawford III by police officers at a Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart on August 5.

Luebbers, who is from Columbus, was one of about 150 people present at the event. Recently, we asked him a few questions about his experience as a legal observer. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What was the rally like?

A: The rally itself was peaceful, positive, and inclusive. The Ohio Student Association, immigration rights, LGBT, and church leaders, among others, spoke to both the John Crawford shooting and larger issues of police-community interaction. The repeating thread through a lot of the speeches centered on the belief that police actions that infringe constitutional rights affect all communities of color and all marginalized communities – not just one particular group or a few persons in a few isolated incidents.

Q: Can you explain what exactly a legal observer does at a rally? 

A: The legal observer, as the name implies, is there to observe. Observers are to take notes and follow developing situations in a protest—for example: protestor-police interactions, pop-up police lines, and any arrests made. In the event an arrest does occur, the observer records the event, compiles information on the arrested, and talks to the police officer, if possible, to discover the charges.

My job as an observer was not overly taxing, but I think every other legal observer I talked to said at least one person from the crowd had talked to them about becoming a legal observer, so I think even if legal observers weren’t needed on the front line, the position itself is serving a valuable purpose to democracy.

Q: Why did you go?

A: In one sense, the purpose of the legal observer is not too different from what those organizing the rally hope to achieve: the accountability of our public officials to carry out our law. I first heard of legal observing through my civil law clinic, which itself provides no-cost legal services to otherwise unrepresented individuals. Legal observing offered an opportunity to see the exercise of that right under the First Amendment to peacefully assemble and to petition the Government for redress of grievances, and hopefully the mere presence of persons wearing bright hats that say “legal observer” facilitates the exercise of that right. Ultimately, I think, that’s the reason the National Lawyers Guild created the program. At this rally, thankfully, none of that was necessary.

Q: What did you learn from the experience?

A: I don’t have a definitive “lesson learned” message. To the extent we as law students tend to stay in our bubble of academia, I think it’s always important to gauge what is thought of not only our profession but also our institution: the biases that may exist in our laws as they are written and the manner in which they are carried out. A lot of people have very different encounters with law enforcement and very different experiences with the legal system. As law students, we come from diverse places and backgrounds, but often the one thing we have in common is that we come from a place of privilege.