RALEIGH — In the strongest statement so far against the Republican legislature, a group of 50 protestors marched into the legislative building Monday and blocked the tall gilded doors to the N.C. Senate chamber in an act of civil disobedience that led to 17 arrests.
N.C. NAACP President William Barber led the protest, standing in the rotunda on the second floor to read an indictment against the Republican-led legislature for denying Medicaid coverage to as many as 500,000 poor people, cutting unemployment benefits and proposing legislation to divert money from public education and require a voter ID at the polls.
Barber said the preponderance of actions from the GOP lawmakers demanded a strong statement. There must be a witness in the face of extremism and regressive public policy, Barber said, calling Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders this generations George Wallaces.
Barber, Duke University scholar Tim Tyson and a handful of clergy members were among those arrested just before the Senates 7 p.m. session.
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver warned the protesters to disperse three times before arresting them.
Most protesters left, but 17 refused to move. The protestors sang We Shall Overcome and other civil rights-era songs as Raleigh police officers put plastic zip ties on their wrists and led them away. Weaver said the protesters arrested will likely face charges of disorderly conduct, second-degree trespass and violation of building rules, all misdemeanors.
At one point, Republican state Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, poked his head around a hallway corner to watch the demonstration. He suggested the action wont make difference in the lawmaking.
They have a right to protest; we have a right to disagree, he said. If we are here to do what is right for North Carolina, then we are doing the right thing.
Two years ago, Barber and six others were arrested for interrupting a legislative session to protest the state budget. The latest arrests are part of an ongoing series of demonstrations across the state. There must be an act that dramatizes the shameful agenda, Barber said. Nobody ... can say they dont know whats happening North Carolina.