RALEIGH — Eight protesters were arrested Wednesday when they refused to leave the Legislative Building during a midday demonstration by the NAACP.
The event, dubbed Witness Wednesday, was held to coincide with the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Medgar Evers, an NAACP field worker who was shot dead by a white segregationist in Jackson, Miss. His death in 1963 was a seminal moment in the Civil Rights movement.
We needed to take time today to honor Evers and others who served in the civil, human and labor rights movements and dedicated their lives to gaining many of the freedoms that exist today, said Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP.
After the rally outside, Barber led about 100 people into the Legislative Building. The eight arrested were loudly singing spirituals outside the chamber where the state House of Representatives was debating the budget. House Speaker Thom Tillis had the doors to the chamber locked for the duration of the protest.
Among those arrested was Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel, Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman and Andre Knight, a Rocky Mount city councilman. More than 400 protesters have now been arrested at the Legislature since April 29, the others as part of Moral Monday protests.
The General Assembly knows that we are not pleased with much of the legislation coming out of there now, said Coleman. We are sending a message to the citizens that we can no longer sit back and let them continue to do this and not speak up about it.
Bennett Taylor, 71, president of the Northampton County chapter of the NAACP, said he was there because somebody has to stand up. .. I have grandkids, kids, that are going to reap the benefits.
Republican leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory have described the protesters as outsiders who are running up a huge tax bill of overtime costs associated with the extra law enforcement officers called in to work for the weekly protests.
The Raleigh police department has spent at least $31,500 in personnel costs to send officers to help the General Assembly police. Capt. Jimmy Stevens, a spokesman for the Wake County Sheriffs Office, said the department has brought in between 15 and 30 extra officers depending on the anticipated number of arrests at a cost of $20,500.
Jeff Weaver, chief of the General Assembly police, said earlier this week that he calculated the extra costs on a monthly basis, but that in the first four weeks he had spent $11,000 of his budget on overtime costs associated with the protests.
Protest organizers argue that the orders for arrest are coming from the legislative leadership who refuse to come out and listen to the concerns of the demonstrators.
They also say that less than 2 percent or fewer than 10 of the 400-some protesters arrested have been from out of state.
The ultra-right wants to try to deflect the debate about the issues, Barber said.