NAACP Protesters' Cases Delayed, 100 More Arrested
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- More than 100 people were arrested Monday following what police called the largest NAACP-led demonstration yet against the policies of the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature.
The eighth week of what the civil rights group calls "Moral Mondays" brought the number of people facing charges to nearly 600. Hours before the most recent group left the General Assembly building in plastic handcuffs, the first batch of protesters appeared in Wake County Court for an initial hearing.
Glen Allen, the state capitol police chief, estimated that about 1,500 people attended a rally behind the Legislative Building before protesters choosing to face arrest entered the building. He said the figure was based on crowd samples of his officers, who differed somewhat on the estimate but considered the crowd to be the largest since demonstrations began in late April.
NAACP organizers put the number well above the police figure, comparing the crowd size to estimates at previous political rallies there.
The rally and protest inside the Legislative Building centered on looming unemployment benefits cuts that will end extended benefits for about 70,000 recipients at the end of June. Earlier this year, North Carolina became the only state in the U.S. opting to restrict benefits to pay down a debt to the federal government.
Unemployed workers who face the June 30 cut-off date said their payments have been eaten up by expensive stopgap health care plans and other basic expenses. Lee Creighton, a Raleigh man who said he's had trouble finding work after going back to school to get a master's degree, said Republicans who control state government for the first time in more than a century stereotype the unemployed as deadbeats taking a timeout from working.
"If this is such a vacation, why do I cry to sleep every night?" he said, his voice quivering.
Among those arrested was state AFL-CIO President James Andrews, who also focused on unemployment cuts in his critique of Republican policies from a labor standpoint. Protesters appearing in growing numbers are angry over the state's shift to the right on economic, social, education and voting policy.
The Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president, decried a decision by the conservative Civitas Institute last week to publish photos and employment information of those arrested. He said protesters are "outside the politics of meanness" and won't be deterred.
The research group - supported by state budget director Art Pope, a lightning rod of left-leaning groups - found the vast majority of those arrested are in-state residents and are predominantly over the age of 46. The group also included an interactive quiz using mug shots of arrested protesters, which critics have called tactless.
Most of the 120 people arrested Monday were middle-aged or older. A 92-year-old woman said she first got involved with civil rights activism 75 years ago.
Barber has said demonstrations that draw attention to the Republican agenda will continue even after the General Assembly ends its regular session this summer. He was among 15 protesters who appeared in Wake County District Court in Raleigh Monday. Two others scheduled to appear, including Duke University professor and author Timothy Tyson, were not in court.
NAACP legal adviser Irv Joyner, who is representing the protesters, asked District Court Judge Dan Nagle to dismiss the charges. Joyner said he believes Constitutional guarantees of freedom to assemble and address their legislators makes it unlawful to charge peaceful demonstrators with trespassing and other crimes.
Nagle told Joyner those sorts of arguments could be considered at a later time, after prosecutors had gathered evidence and lined up witnesses. The judge then continued the cases, scheduling the protesters for court appearances in late September.
Nagle didn't ask the defendants to enter pleas Monday, but Joyner had said previously all will plead not guilty.
"They were arrested not for what they did, but because they were protesting actions that we deem to be improper, spiteful and mean-spirited," Joyner said after the hearing.
They were the first court appearances for protesters facing similar misdemeanor counts of second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse on command and violating building rules.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, a Democrat, said last week that he hasn't decided what to do with protesters.
Michael Gerhardt, an expert in Constitutional law at the University of North Carolina, said the laws under which the protesters are charged aren't unconstitutional as written, so Joyner will have to try to show that they have been applied differently depending on the political views of groups asserting their rights.