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A Moral Monday ‘protest’ goes too far

The Raleigh-based Civitas Institute provided some good public service last week with an online database that showed Moral Monday protesters are neither outsiders nor hippies, as Republican leaders have suggested recently. But given its spiteful and childish use of the information, we’re pretty sure Civitas had another goal in mind.

The database was published last week on the think tank’s website, along with a promise from president Francis X. De Luca that it would “provide surprising insights about those arrested and where they come from.” The insights, while interesting, weren’t terribly surprising. As other researchers have learned, the Civitas database showed that 98 percent of those arrested at weekly Moral Monday rallies in Raleigh are from North Carolina – not the “outsiders” that Gov. Pat McCrory warned a Republican convention crowd about this month.

The Civitas research also showed that most protesters are Democrats and come from the state’s urban areas, which will most feel the impact of Republican proposals and bills that hurt the poor. So again, no surprise, as weren’t the numbers that showed 27 percent of protesters working in education, a field that’s feeling particular harm from this legislative session.

The data did show that only 15 percent of those arrested were unemployed, a testament to the commitment of those willing to go to jail despite the impact it might have on their jobs. Similarly, 80 percent of those arrested worked in private industry. All in all, not the portrait of liberal, freeloading rabble-rousers that conservatives would have you think populated the rallies.

Maybe it was frustration, then, that prompted Civitas officials to also dig up and publish the mug shots of each protester, the city or town in which they lived and, stunningly, their employers’ name. Maybe it was intimidation – if you’re planning to get arrested, future protester, you also should plan on your employer’s name being out there for someone to call.

Or maybe it was simply mean, as is the “Pick the Protester” game that mocks protesters by offering website visitors the fun of choosing which mug shot fits demographic characteristics like “79 years old” or “a lawyer.”

Public information is a weighty tool, as newspapers well know. The Observer, for example, publishes databases of public salaries, including teachers’, and in doing so we weigh the public value of information against the private discomfort it might cause to some. Sometimes, media make the wrong call, as a New York newspaper did last year in publishing names and addresses of gun permit holders in two counties.

Civitas was wrong, too, and it’s not surprising that in response to that database, IndyWeek of Durham published the personal information of Civitas staffers, then also published reader comments that included the wedding announcement and registry link of one such employee. Repulsive, meet repulsive.

Perhaps that’s just the nature of public discourse these days, or maybe this could have been avoided if our governor and other Republicans had at least held their tongues about civil obedience, instead of showing how uncivil their party has become.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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