NAACP protesters were back in the capital on Wednesday hoping to visit with legislators about their concerns and goals for this General Assembly session, and they clashed with police outside the entrance doors to the legislative chambers.
Police told the protesters they could not pass the large, gold doors that are considered the main entrances to the lawmaking chambers, citing new building rules adopted by a committee of lawmakers.
The Rev. William Barber, NAACP president and leader of the protests, sought legal guidance in the midst of the protest, and said NAACP lawyers would challenge the new rules in court this week.
Barber and Lt. Marvin Brock of the General Assembly police engaged in a sharp exchange about whether the several dozen protesters were blocking General Assembly doors.
“It amazes me that they can send Lt. Brock,” Barber said, “But they can’t meet with us themselves.”
A receptionist also sent word to the protesters, who planned to visit their offices, that they could not go without an invitation. Protesters delivered letters anyway.
But outside Speaker Tim Moore’s office, the protesters ran into another barrier.
William Morales, an aide, stood in the doorway with his arms crossed across his chest. He asked the protesters why they wanted to come in and then he and Barber had sharp words.
Morales was also was in the same office when 15 protesters staged a sleep-in when Thom Tillis was NC Speaker of the House.
Barber said he and several other clergy wanted to wait for the speaker inside the office. Morales said he could deliver any message.
The men exchanged barbs for at least five minutes about access. Morales cautioned Barber not to touch him or he would lodge assault charges.
Barber quickly countered that he had not touched Morales and stated that he was doing nothing illegal.
The men argued under the glare of media cameras. Ultimately, Rabbi Lucy Dinner, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, ducked below Morales’ arms to cross the threshold into the office. The Rev. Nancy Petty of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church then scrunched down low and made her way into the office.
Then Morales stepped aside so others could enter. They left a letter for Moore and moved on to other offices throughout the N.C. Legislative Building.
“The one thing we’re not doing is we’re not going away,” Barber said.
Barber and the protesters are hoping to persuade lawmakers to adopt a list of goals they’ve carried with them since 2013, when the so-called “Moral Monday” movement resulted in more than 900 arrests.
The size of the protest on Wednesday was markedly smaller than in the previous years. The group did not fill the legislature’s rotunda as in years past. The group was mostly clergy and totaled roughly 100 people.
Barber acknowledged that since then Republicans won at the ballot box, but he said that did not mean protesters would disappear from the capital.
“While our elections have consequences, it still is up to the people to hold our legislators responsible.” Barber said.
He argued that election success does not “allow legislators to trample the state or U.S. constitutions.”
“We can’t retreat from defending our Constitution,” Barber said.
Among the goals of the NAACP are:
• Expand Medicaid by accepting federal money that North Carolina legislators decided in 2013 to forgo;
• Better fund the public schools;
• Restore the Racial Justice Act;
• Reverse what they described as “race-based” resdistricting, though the North Carolina courts have upheld the Republican-led drawing of congressional and legislative district maps in 2011;
• Add days back to the election schedule in which North Carolinians can vote early.
CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to reflect that a receptionist, not legislators, had indicated that protesters could not visit lawmakers’ offices without an invitation.