Absurd responses to Moral Monday protests of the N.C. General Assemblys hurtful and controversial policies this year just keep coming.
Last week, in the first trial of the hundreds of North Carolinians arrested for peacefully gathering at the legislature, the chief of the General Assembly police said protesters were spied upon, and that his department collected intelligence on the anarchists among them.
Lets be clear on what an anarchist is most often defined as: According to Websters dictionary, its a person who believes government is not necessary, one who rebels against the ruling powers, and one who advocates even through violent means the overthrow of government. Synonyms for anarchist? Subversive, terrorist, revolutionary.
Its difficult to reconcile that image with the people who gathered on 13 Mondays during the legislative session during the spring and summer. It certainly doesnt jibe with the image of the 68-year-old factory worker who was the first of many to go on trial for trespassing, failing to disperse and violating building rules at the N.C. Legislative Building during the protests. Saladin Muhammad, a U.S. Army veteran and labor activist, was found guilty of the misdemeanors and sentenced to pay a $100 fine. His lawyers immediately said theyd appeal.
Muhammad, like the other 900-plus arrested for civil disobedience, was a non-violent protester. And as Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president who coordinated the demonstrations aptly noted, there was little need for spies at the planning meetings because the meetings were open to the public. Its not like we were planning a bank heist. Mostly what we did was pray and sing.
I missed the planning meetings but I was in Raleigh at the Capitol for one of the demonstrations. This was not a group advocating against government, espousing it was unnecessary or advocating its overthrow. These folks were petitioning their government, asking state leaders to listen to their concerns about policies they felt were harmful to the welfare of N.C. residents and the states future prosperity. Praying, singing and speeches were the extent of their anarchy.
Still, it should not be surprising that General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver might ascribe dastardly motives to the participants. State policymakers had already done so. Gov. Pat McCrory erroneously dubbed them outside agitators fueled by special interests. He told the Associated Press: Outsiders are coming in (to North Carolina), and theyre going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin - an allusion to public protests against that Republican governors policies that led to a recall effort.
The outside agitator appellation has particular resonance here in the South. Civil rights concerns in the 1960s were often shamefully dismissed or ignored by opponents - many of them local and state policymakers and public servants - as promulgated by outsiders, people who didnt live in the South and knew nothing about the issues.
It was untrue then, and its untrue about the Moral Monday protesters. But it took data gathered by research foundations and news organizations to finally disavow some N.C. policymakers of the notion.
Still, state lawmakers continued denigrating Moral Monday protesters and attempting to de-legitimize their concerns. Some snickered at them and called them crazy.
So the chief of the lawmakers police force could well have been taking his cues about nefarious aims of some in the group from our esteemed leaders careless and irresponsible language. Weaver wouldnt identify the so-called anarchists among the protesters nor how many his department had established were in that category. He also wouldnt say what kind of intelligence his department collected on those considered against the government, or what they now planned to do with their intelligence data.
Spying on the protesters planning meetings was actually done by the Raleigh police department. Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said a plain-clothes officer attended two meetings to determine how many people were expecting to be arrested so the department could be prepared. She said the agency wanted to gauge the sufficiency of logistical support, such as transport vehicles (for those arrested), available at the Legislative Building. She said when it was determined that accurate information could be attained without attending the meetings, the officers presence was discontinued.
To maintain safety and order, police are expected to seek and gather information. No one should fault them for doing that. But police should not have carte blanche to spy on citizens under the specious claim of looking for anarchists at peaceful protests where demonstrators simply expressed dissatisfaction with state policies and asked for their grievances to be heard.
Unfortunately, tossing out the word anarchist is becoming an easy way for some people to stigmatize a person or group with which they disagree. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has even taken to calling tea party members of Congress whove forced a government shutdown anarchists.
Can we all just ratchet down the divisive rhetoric a tad please? Such incendiary language is good for a sound bite but little more.
This latest revelation about the Moral Monday protests is another disappointment in how officials handled the matter. Ive said before that the governor and state lawmakers could have helped ameliorate this situation by advocating for the peaceful protests to proceed without arrests or by setting up a system to deal with any charges outside of court. The protests mostly happened before each days legislative sessions and didnt disturb the legislatures proceedings. But state leaders were determined to see citizens punished for speaking out, wasting money and time.
Shame on them for that. And double shame for setting the environment for their police department to collect intelligence on the protesters and label them anarchists.
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