NAACP leader Barber arrested in legislature

He was leading chants in support of education funding

Staff WritersMay 25, 2011 

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RALEIGH -- The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, and six others arrested during Tuesday's session of the N.C. House decided to spend the night in the Wake County jail.

Barber and the other organization leaders were charged by General Assembly Police with disorderly conduct and second-degree trespassing, both misdemeanors, after they shouted at legislators from gallery.

The group chanted, "Fund education, not incarceration," and "Save our children, don't cut education."

Barber shouted, "What doth the Lord require?" and the others chanted, "Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God." The words are from a Bible verse, Micah 6:8.

Barber was transported by ambulance under police escort to the Wake County jail, where he appeared before a magistrate.

General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver said Barber was not injured in any way but had to be transported by ambulance because of his size.

Weaver said it is rare, but not unheard of, for people to be arrested inside the Legislative Building.

The others charged are: Curtis Gatewood, a former head of the Durham chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who now lives in Oxford; Robert Thompson Stephens of Winston-Salem; Kojo Nantambu, president of the Charlotte NAACP; Timothy Hodges of Clayton; David Louis Lamotte of Raleigh; and Theodore Anthony Spearman, former president of the Hickory NAACP chapter.

"They have some of our strongest leaders in there with [Barber]," said Barber's lawyer, Al McSurely of Chapel Hill. He said the seven activists were hoping that they would be held together overnight in a holding cell.

As he was being taken into custody, Barber said they were protesting the "extreme, draconian" budgets proposed by legislative Republicans. Both the proposed House and Senate spending plans would make deep cuts to nearly every area of state government, especially education and social programs.

Also at issue, Barber said, are such GOP actions as holding up extended unemployment benefits, changes to voting laws and the fact that the NAACP members have not been able to schedule a meeting with House Speaker Thom Tillis.

"It's about going backward," said Barber, who is the pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro.

From the floor of the legislature, Tillis said the protest was "one of the most disruptive, disrespectful acts I've ever seen."

Afterward, Tillis said he had set up a meeting with Barber earlier this session, but Barber canceled. About six weeks into the session, Tillis prayed with Barber.

He said Barber's protest makes him less inclined now to meet with the NAACP president.

"I'll meet with someone more respectful of this institution," Tillis said.

State legislator Larry Womble, a Democrat from Winston-Salem, showed up at the Wake County jail Tuesday evening in support of Barber and the other protestors. He was joined by about 30 other people - black and white, young and old. Womble said some of his fellow legislators are trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, who can least afford it.

"The cuts that the General Assembly is calling for, at least on the Republican side - education, health care and jobs - will affect North Carolina in a very negative manner," Womble said. "I think (Barber) is trying to call attention to this. I believe he is justified."

McSurely said NAACP members would hold a news conference this morning in front of the jail after the protesters post bonds totaling $12,500.

The group will then hold a meeting tentatively scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at the Martin Street Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh.

Staff writer Lynn Bonner contributed to this report.

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698