Police at NC legislature worked to avoid arrests at 'Moral Monday' demonstrations

ablythe@newsobserver.comMay 28, 2014 

— Lt. Martin Brock of the General Assembly police force said Wednesday that the department had wanted to employ a different approach for dealing with protesters this legislative session.

“Our hope was to prevent arrest,” he said.

But in the early hours of Wednesday morning, 14 people were arrested after refusing to leave the office suite of House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Shortly before Tillis sounded the gavel to begin the day’s work in his chamber Tuesday, 15 demonstrators were settling in at his office inside the N.C. Legislative Building.

They were fast-food workers, a retired education advocate and clergy. One woman was pregnant. Another had cervical cancer.

They wanted to talk with Tillis, a state GOP leader and a shepherd of the 2013 agenda that scaled back unemployment benefits, cut earned-income tax credits that helped low-income working families, rejected Medicaid expansion, adopted a voter ID law and limited the number of early voting days, while offering tax breaks that aided the wealthier in North Carolina.

Tillis, who is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, on the November ballot, was out of the office a week ago when clergy and opponents of the policies brought bread to his office with hopes of having a political love feast, of sorts.

Tillis completed his business on the House floor Tuesday but did not stop to speak with the demonstrators in his office before leaving the N.C. Legislative Building.

William Morales, the speaker’s executive assistant, remained at the front desk until early Wednesday, when Brock told the demonstrators still there that they were about to be arrested.

Brock said Wednesday he asked demonstrators at least eight times to leave the speaker’s office and the building. Since the building closed shortly before 9 p.m., Brock stopped in the office every 30 minutes and pleaded with the demonstrators to leave.

But all but one – a single mother who left in the early morning so she could take her son to school – were there for the long haul. They had sleeping bags and food delivered to them by NAACP representatives.

At about 1:45 a.m., long after the gathered crowds had dwindled and media crews had reduced their staffing, police officers began the arrests.

Police had zip ties out to bind wrists and a transport van waiting to move people to the Wake County jail, where magistrates and booking agents waited. The demonstrators were charged with second-degree trespass.

Those arrested

Those charged were: Stella Jones Adams, 55, of Durham; Norma Clark, 27, of Raleigh; Norman Frederick Clark Jr., 23, of Raleigh; Faye Lewark Daniels, 71, of Statesville; Rubye Deanna Harris, 49, of Greenville; Jesseia Dianna Jackson, 19, of Durham; Clifford Anthony Jones, 40, of Winston-Salem; Jason Jerome McCullen, 22, of Raleigh; Meshon Demont Payton, 29, of Durham; Rita Julia Peeples, 56, of Greensboro; Tyrek Zequan Pierce, 24, of Raleigh; Randolph Hunt Perry, 20, of Durham; Crystal Dawn Price, 28, of Greensboro; and John Richard Weston-Jones, 78, of Chapel Hill.

Outstanding warrants

As is common after arrests, police looked for outstanding warrants. A warrant charging Clark with general affray was served Wednesday. Price was served with an outstanding warrant accusing her of failure to appear for court in Guilford County on a different matter.

Brock said Wednesday that police were in contact throughout the day, night and early morning with the Tillis staff. Brock said that he had not spoken with Tillis, but that there were discussions with legal counsel and key legislative leaders about how to handle the demonstrators.

“Our strategy was to take every opportunity we could trying to convince them to leave,” said Brock, who was at the demonstrations last year that resulted in 945 arrests.

The Republican leadership has mostly disregarded the protesters’ complaints, maintaining that lawmakers carried out the will of their voters with the 2013 agenda.

Arrest not the goal

The Rev. William J. Barber II, the head of the state NAACP and a key organizer of the “Moral Monday” movement spreading to other states in the South, said the goal of the demonstrators is not arrest.

“We never go to get arrested,” Barber said. “We go to exercise our First Amendment and constitutional rights.”

Barber has been criticized by supporters of the 2013 agenda as a “race-baiter” and opportunist more interested in being in front of media cameras than in having true debate about the issues his followers are protesting.

Not going away

As the police change their strategies, the protesters have no plans to go away, Barber said.

On Monday, in the late afternoon, a demonstration is set to highlight environmental and health issues, Barber said.

“The protests point out the contradictions of these extremists,” Barber said, repeating a word he often uses to describe the Republican leadership in the General Assembly.

“I don’t want to say exactly what people will be doing, because they are making decisions, very critical decisions about what is right for them.“

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

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