Architect of 'Moral Monday' protests in court facing civil disobedience charges

ablythe@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2013 

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The Rev. William Barber, standing, the architect of the weekly Moral Monday protests this summer at the N.C. Legislative Building, greets Scott Holmes, right, one of two defense lawyers representing a dozen protesters on trial in Wake County District Court, on Tuesday.

COREY LOWENSTEIN — clowenst@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— For weeks before the Rev. William Barber was arrested inside the N.C. Legislative Building, the second-in-command of the General Assembly police force had a routine question for Barber, the head of the state NAACP.

Lt. Martin Brock was one of the law enforcement officers called to the witness stand on Tuesday in the Wake County District Court trial of Barber and 11 others. The law enforcement officer outlined what he described as genial banter that occurred.

“It would go like this: ‘Rev. Barber, am I going to have to arrest you today?’” Brock testified. “And Rev. Barber would say, ‘No, Brock, not today, but I’ll give you some kind of notice.’”

On April 29, Brock’s question was answered.

Barber was among the 17 arrested in one of the early weekly protests that came to be known as Moral Monday demonstrations.

Barber led a group of 50 protesters inside the state legislative building where the Senate and House of Representatives vote on the laws and policies of the state.

They were upset that the Republican-led legislature, only weeks into its historic session, had denied Medicaid coverage to as many as 500,000 poor people and cut unemployment benefits. Additionally, legislation already had been proposed to require a voter ID at the polls and to divert public education money for private school vouchers.

On Tuesday, 12 of the 17 arrested spent much of the day inside a Wake County District Court room challenging the charges lodged against them that night.

Barber stands accused of violating legislative building rules, second-degree trespass and failure to disperse upon command. His attorneys have asked for the charges to be dismissed, arguing that the building rules are unconstitutionally vague and that citizens should have an opportunity to petition their lawmakers.

The trial will continue Wednesday.

Much of Tuesday’s testimony came from Brock, Jeff Weaver, chief of the General Assembly police force and Phillip King, sergeant-at-arms of the N.C. Senate.

Weaver testified that he ordered the arrests because he thought demonstrators had broken N.C. Legislative Building rules by standing in front of Senate chamber doors, holding up signs and disrupting business of the General Assembly.

But defense attorneys Scott Holmes and Irving Joyner questioned their interpretation of the rules and have argued previously that they are so vague and broad that they are not constitutional.

None of the law enforcement officers who took the stand on Tuesday said they saw anyone engaging in violent behavior.

More than 900 people were arrested this summer during the “Moral Monday” demonstrations. Some of the cases have been dismissed, and there have been several convictions and some acquittals. The bulk of the cases await trial.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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