State Politics

NAACP activists threatened with arrest while delivering letter to House speaker’s office

Activists with the N.C. NAACP were threatened with arrest Tuesday when they attempted to deliver a letter to House Speaker Tim Moore’s office, a video shows.

The NAACP was distributing a letter calling on legislators to stop conducting their business and immediately draw new redistricting maps in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The video, posted to YouTube by Fusion Films, shows Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble making the threat to the small group as they delivered the letter in the reception area of Moore’s office.

Coble, a former Raleigh mayor and Wake County commissioner, oversees the legislature’s staff and operations. His order in the video appears to contradict General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock, who is shown in the video telling the activists that he’s alerted Moore’s staff of the visit. Brock does not object to the NAACP’s actions on the video.

“You can hand it to her, but then you’re going to need to leave, because this is a private office,” Coble tells the group.

“It’s not a private office,” NAACP staffer Tyler Swanson replies.

Coble: “Yes it is.”

Swanson: “It’s the people’s office.”

Coble, pointing to the hallway: “It’s the people’s space out there.”

Swanson: “But this is also the people’s office. I’m not here to argue with you.”

Coble: “You won’t have to argue, because I’m going to have you arrested.”

Marcus Bass of Democracy North Carolina: “You can’t arrest people.”

Coble: “Yes you can.”

The group leaves the office after a brief discussion with a staffer for Moore, who takes their request for a meeting with speaker. The videographer then questions Coble further as the group walks to another office.

“You’re not allowed in the office,” Coble says. “People are trying to work, and this is a constant state of affairs with y’all.”

The advocacy group Democracy North Carolina shared the video on Twitter, describing it as “Head of Legislative Services Paul Coble freaks out on young, black activists delivering letter.”

Coble did not respond to an inquiry from The News & Observer Wednesday about the incident.

On Wednesday, Rev. William Barber, the NAACP’s president, criticized Coble’s actions as “illegal.” Barber said he wasn’t able to join the letter delivery because he was banned from the Legislative Building after his recent arrest during a protest there. He’s seeking to have that ban thrown out in court.

“Here are two young people who want to exercise what the Constitution says: We have a right to instruct our leaders,” Barber said of Swanson and Bass. “It’s not just a suggestion, it’s a democratic responsibility.

“We’re told the office is open for business, but then we can’t come in the office. It is almost as though they are afraid of any conversation, any challenge that does not fit their preconceived notions.”

Swanson said Wednesday that Coble “used his power to pretty much be a bully.”

“That video shows that being a person of color in the South and the General Assembly and trying to exercise your constitutional rights can be intimidating,” he said. “I will not be intimidated by these old, Jim Crow tactics. I’m not afraid of being arrested, and I will not be silenced by these illegal lawmakers.”