Anticipating possible unrest outside the Republican and Democratic party conventions, a human rights organization has taken the unprecedented step of sending trained observers to protests in both cities to monitor police tactics and protestor actions in case of rights abuses.
Amnesty International, which traditionally monitors demonstrations and elections in nations outside of the United States, has teams of observers spread throughout Cleveland embedded around protest zones and they’ll be in Philadelphia next week, too.
“We’re here to protect people’s right to protest and to ensure that people are able to take to the streets peacefully and share their views,” said Amnesty International spokesman Eric Ferrero, who has helped coordinate the teams. “They are independent impartial, transparent, neutral people who are trained for what to look for in terms of how police are handling protests, how a protest is evolving, what the response is, what it should be.”
Amnesty first started sending observers into American protests during unrest two years ago in Ferguson, Missouri, but this is the first time in the group’s history that they’ve felt the need to have a presence at American political conventions.
Ferrero said the decision was made in response to a growing worry over protestor rights nationwide and the degrading relationship between citizens and police following a series of deadly shootings that have laid claim to lives on both sides in recent years.
“We’re concerned,” Ferrero said. “We wouldn’t be there if we weren’t concerned.”
Wearing bright yellow T-shirts and carrying packs loaded with a walkie-talkie, a bandana and solution liquid in case of teargas, the Amnesty teams spread out across downtown Cleveland this week.
Observers use a phone app that monitors local police scanners to chase reports of potential unrest and take notes on whether police are protecting demonstrators’ right to protest and how the protestors handle themselves. The group plans to compile the data collected in the field for an accountability report to be released after the conventions.
In Cleveland, despite expectations for possibly raucous demonstrations in response to Donald Trump’s presidential nomination, demonstrations remained relatively calm for the first few days of the convention. The only notable flare-up occurred Wednesday afternoon when a small group of demonstrators attempted to light an American flag on fire. Police offers were allegedly pushed and punched when they tried to douse flames that had spread to the clothing of the man lighting the flag on fire. In the end, 18 arrests were made.
That same afternoon, a loud boom sound erupted nearby, prompting fears of a shooting. An Amnesty observer pulled up his police scanner app and quickly radioed to the rest of his team.
“The sound people heard was not a gunshot,” he said into his radio. “It was a flat tire, based on the police scanner. Over and out.”