Protest at General Assembly leads to 17 arrests

Apr. 29, 2013 @ 09:29 PM

A protest of Republican policies in the North Carolina General Assembly ended with the arrests of 17 activists and civil rights leaders Monday.

Members of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other activists surrendered to North Carolina General Assembly police outside the Senate chambers after an hour of prayer and song directed at what protestors called a regressive Republican agenda.

General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver said the protestors will be charged. Alleged violations could include breaking building rules, second-degree trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. All are misdemeanors.

Weaver twice told the protestors by megaphone to disperse but was drowned out by the sound of the civil rights anthem "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round." Legal volunteers with the protestors watched from the side for any procedural miscues from police, and another 30 people aligned with the demonstrators occasionally joined in chants from the other side of the rotunda that leads to the doors of the Senate.

Demonstrators first gathered at Davie Street Presbyterian Church to outline the reasons for their protest. They emphasized that their grievance goes deeper than a bill recently approved in the House that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls; they argued Republican policies refusing a federal Medicaid expansion, cutting unemployment benefits, eliminating the earned income tax credit and other measures limiting voting options expose the hypocrisy of a party that professes love of biblical scripture. Republicans took control of the legislature after the 2010 mid-term elections.

"If you remove all the scriptures dealing with poverty and justice, the Bible would literally fall apart," said Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Barber was among a group of arrested protestors that also includes Timothy Tyson, a Duke University professor who focuses on the civil rights movement of the 20th century. In his prayer, Tyson attacked Republican legislation that would increase the number of charter schools or affect benefits that mostly aid the poor.

"We hear the weeping of the school teacher who's given her life for her students, who sees this legislature that's turned its back on public education for all," he said.

Barber said the NAACP is planning a tour of up to 20 counties that are home to lawmakers most associated with Republican policies, a May 7 rally at Bicentennial Mall and another nonviolent protest at the General Assembly that could lead to arrests. He said he expects the efforts to gain momentum.

"I don't know where this is going, but I know college students are burning up social media...and I know that after today no one will be able to say they don't know what's going on in this state," he said.