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Nearly 120 protesters arrested at the General Assembly after first wave of ‘Moral Monday’ protesters have their first day in court

By Anne Blythe, Annalise Frank and Julian Spector
ablythe@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH The weekly demonstrations at the Legislative Building swelled Monday to the largest crowd yet, with police estimating 2,500 to 3,000 in attendance.

Nearly 120 people were arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse on command at the “Moral Monday” demonstration. That brings the total number of arrests to almost 600 on the same day that the first wave of protesters made their first appearance in Wake County District Court.

Organizers estimated that more than 5,000 were in the crowd Monday at the eighth weekly protest.

This week’s protests come as 71,000 North Carolinians will soon see their extended unemployment benefits end – the result of a new state law that goes into effect July 1. The law, among the first passed by the legislature this year, reduces the maximum state benefits a laid-off worker can receive by roughly one-third.

The Rev. William Barber, chief architect of the protests that now bring national media crews, said much of the policies and laws from the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly and governor’s office have been putting pen to paper, or “politics and signatures.”

“Seven days from now,” Barber said, “that’s when the pain starts.”

Lee Creighton of Raleigh, who has been out of work or underemployed for the past four years, will be among those losing benefits. He was called to the stage during the protest.

Creighton, who has depleted his savings account, turns to his parents for help.

“The unemployed people are not deadbeats,” Creighton said, his voice cracking. “We’re not losing our jobs because we don’t want to work. … If this is such a vacation, why is it that I cry to sleep every night.”

Trials to be in late September

Irving Joyner, the N.C. Central University law professor representing the protesters, said he entered not guilty pleas on behalf of the 17 arrested on April 29. He also asked that their cases be dismissed, challenging the arrests as unconstitutional.

“The North Carolina Constitution says that every citizen has the right to go to the General Assembly and address their legislators and to issue any complaints that they have about the work that they’re doing,” Joyner told District Court Judge Dan Nagle, who was presiding over the hearing.

Nagle scheduled the trials for late September.

As those legal questions lingered, demonstrators were adamant about the messages they wanted to send later in the day to the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory.

With labor issues, women’s rights and economic justice as their themes for the week, the demonstrators hoped to halt what many described as “arrogant” and “vindictive” policies that favored the very wealthy and caused great harm to the state’s poorest and weakest.

Critics of the demonstrators have described them as bitter about the 2010 and 2012 Republican victories and unwilling to accept the new party in power.

They contend the weekly arrests are a drain on tax dollars, requiring the General Assembly police and other Wake County law enforcement agencies to spend more than they otherwise would.

McCrory has described the demonstrators as “outsiders.” Data collectors with EPS Research, a Chapel Hill-based company, surveyed the crowd a week ago and a statistical sampling of 316 participants showed that 98.4 percent of the demonstrators lived in North Carolina.

The John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank that has been largely funded by the family foundation of Art Pope, the governor’s budget director, posted an online database last week of the people arrested in the demonstrations. The database included the age, race, employment and home town of 382 of the arrested protesters.

The site also included a “Pick The Protester Game,” which invited people to match descriptions of the protesters with their mugshots.

The posts brought quick criticism from groups on the other side of the political aisle – the Institute for Southern Studies compared the database to the actions of White Citizens’ Councils, which published names of NAACP supporters in local newspapers in the civil rights era to encourage retaliation.

A statement on the Civitas site said the information was posted to let readers decide whether the “protesters disrupting the General Assembly at ‘Moral Mondays’ represent a cross-section of North Carolina citizens.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948
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