RALEIGH — State civil rights leaders encouraged people to risk arrest as they announced plans Monday for a July 20 mass demonstration to protest the end of Wake County's school diversity policy.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said the rally will be held in Raleigh to coincide with that day's school board meeting. At last week's board meeting, Barber was among four people who were arrested on trespassing charges for disrupting the meeting.
As groups organize for the demonstration and other events, Barber asked the biracial crowd of more than 230 people at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh on Monday to search their conscience to see if they're willing to engage in acts of civil disobedience.
"You must now decide whether you want your community to go forward or to go backward," Barber said. "Whether you're willing to break a lesser law because they're about to break a greater law."
Barber said the exact location and route of the demonstration will be announced two weeks from now. But he said there will be protesters at the school board meeting.
Barber and other critics of the new school board majority argue that ending the socioeconomic diversity policy will lead to resegregation of schools.
The Rev. Nancy Petty, senior pastor of Pullen Memorial, told the audience, "It's time for direct action." She was among the people who were arrested last week.
Barber reiterated the NAACP's threat to take legal action against the elimination of the diversity policy. He also said he's trying to arrange a meeting with Gov. Bev Perdue and State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson to raise his concerns about Wake.
But members of the board majority argue the old system didn't help low-income and minority students succeed. They say that going to a new system in which children are assigned to schools in their community will be better.
Debra Goldman, vice chairwoman of the school board, said their opponents can better spend their time helping out by volunteering in schools. She questioned encouraging people to engage in acts of civil disobedience.
"I don't know how encouraging people to break the law will help the kids," Goldman said.
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