Days after persuading a Superior Court judge to suspend some new rules for the N.C. Legislative Building, protesters were back on Monday, raising their voices by many decibels against a state budget and Republican-controlled agenda they describe as “extremist.”
As the demonstrators tested the breadth of the order signed Monday by Judge Carl Fox about the overly broad definition of “disturbing behavior,” General Assembly police checked with their attorneys on the depth of their authority to remove the noisemakers from the state building.
About 20 minutes after the N.C. Senate went into session, law enforcement officers began wrapping plastic cuffs around the wrists of 19 demonstrators who had continued singing, chanting and speechmaking after being asked to quietly leave the rotunda area outside the General Assembly chambers.
The scene was reminiscent of last summer, when more than 900 demonstrators were arrested for similar actions.
But in early May, legislators amended N.C. Legislative Building rules after many of the criminal cases from 2013 raised questions about the clarity and constitutionality of the measures. On Friday, the NAACP and five plaintiffs challenging those rules won a legal victory when Fox described measures targeting “disturbing behavior” and “disruptive signs” as overly broad and vague. There will be further debate in court in the coming weeks and months about whether the new building rules are constitutional, but Fox said some of the changes adopted in May would be suspended until those arguments could be heard.
In the late afternoon on Monday, nearly 800 demonstrators gathered on Halifax Mall, according to Capitol Police estimates. The Rev. William J. Barber II echoed many of the same concerns heard in 2013 and in protests earlier this session. The protesters’ goal is to push lawmakers to roll back some of the laws and policies that demonstrators describe as “attacks” on North Carolina’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.
‘This is what’s right’
Lawmakers argue that their policies and laws will help restore North Carolina’s economy. They cite lower unemployment rates as evidence that they’re working.
Their critics argue otherwise. They contend the unemployment rate is lower, in part, because some of the policies meant the chronically unemployed no longer get counted, skewing the overall numbers.
Teachers, labor organizers and others were among those arrested Monday.
Bryan DeWyngaert, chief of staff for the American Federation of Government Employees came down from northern Virginia to stand with the protesters.
“This is what’s right for people in America, for people in North Carolina,” DeWyngaert said. “We need fairness and justice for people in this state.”
Lieutenant Marvin Brock of the General Assembly police said he began removing demonstrators from the second-floor rotunda area after officers received noise complaints.
Though Brock was not certain who lodged all the complaints, at least one lawmaker complained during a Senate discussion about a charter school bill.
“Mr. President, it’s hard to hear Sen. McKissick,” Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican representing Montgomery and Randolph counties, said to the chamber’s leader.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, head of the state NAACP and an organizer of the “Moral Monday movement” spreading across the South, was asked to leave the second floor or risk arrest.
Barber was arrested in 2013 and his criminal case is still active in Wake County Superior Court. Because of that, Barber has been barred from the second floor. But many times since his arrest, he has been permitted to gather there with demonstrators until the civil disobedience began.
On Monday night, Brock told the NAACP president he would have to leave and cited the judge’s order as his reason.
Though Barber disagreed with the assessment, he left the building briefly while other protesters stayed and continued singing.
“They think this is me, but they’re going to find out it’s the people,” Barber said.
Barber returned later to the third floor and spoke to the demonstrators from there.
This year’s tactics differ
The demonstration was part of the “Moral Monday movement” that resulted in 945 arrests last year and the arrest last month of 15 protesters who staged a sit-in inside the offices of N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis.
This week, the demonstrators continued their push for repeal of laws and policies passed in 2013 that scaled back unemployment benefits, rejected federal Medicaid expansion, directed more public school money to private school vouchers and phased out teacher tenure and shifted pay toward performance-based policies.
Though the Moral Monday demonstrations last year used a similar process each week to protest a different issue, the rallies this year have been different each week.
On the first Monday after the General Assembly opened for its short session to deal with budget issues, reacted to new building rules.
In early May, the legislators amended rules for the Legislative complex so that anybody “making a noise loud enough to impair others’ ability to conduct a conversation in a normal tone of voice while in the general vicinity” could be creating a “disturbance.”
Singing, clapping, shouting, playing instruments or using equipment to amplify sound also were listed as examples of disturbing behavior that could lead to arrest.
Fox temporarily suspended that rule on Friday, describing it as overly broad.
Fox also temporarily suspended a rule allowing the confiscation and punishment of somebody with “a sign that is used to disturb or used in a manner that will imminently disturb.”
And Fox criticized and temporarily suspended a rule that allows for the arrest of anybody “creating any impediment to others’ free movement around the grounds.” The judge noted that people sometimes walk three abreast on a sidewalk, blocking others, either intentionally or unintentionally.
The NAACP and five plaintiffs have challenged the measures as vague, too broad and unconstitutional attempts to quiet the protesters who rallied most Mondays last year while the General Assembly was in session.
Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.