Just days after his appearance on the front page of The New York Times as one of the country’s leading liberal religious leaders, the Rev. William Barber was back on other front pages, this time because of an outrageous and likely unconstitutional ban from the North Carolina Legislative Building.
This is a preposterous act of excess on the part of the General Assembly’s police force. Paul Coble, the former Raleigh mayor, was involved indirectly because he runs the legislative services office that oversees the building and staff. This controversy is embarrassing to North Carolina, and it reflects poorly on the judgment of the legislature’s police, and in addition on the General Assembly’s GOP leadership.
Barber was arrested during a protest in the building on May 30, a health care sit-in. As a condition for his release, Barber was banned from the building along with 31 other protesters. Banned from the building – their building, the people’s building. Wake County magistrate Jeffrey L. Godwin set the condition as he charged protesters with second-degree trespass. His actions should be reviewed by his superiors immediately.
Asked about the ban, Martin Brock, chief of the General Assembly’s police, said, “If someone has been arrested two or three times, would it be reasonable to expect that they would be arrested again? That would be my observation.” The logic is ridiculous and high-handed. The Legislative Building belongs to the people. If Barber and others are involved in a peaceful protest, they may be subject to charges, but to ban them from the building is almost certainly unconstitutional. Brock’s performance here also demands review.
Barber’s ban isn’t about one arrest, of course. As the leader of the now-famous “Moral Monday” protests, he drew national attention for his leadership against a right-wing General Assembly passing laws to benefit big business and the wealthy and helping to erode public education. The protests drew more people and got more attention than expected. Republicans were embarrassed by it, and they’re doubtless delighted at the “ban on Barber.”
But they’ll lose in court (other judges have ruled against bans on protesters) and they’ll lose in the public’s eye. The ban won’t stand, except perhaps as a petty, petulant, childish, humiliating example of bullying by people who ought to know better. House Speaker Tim Moore and Phil Berger, president pro tem of the Senate, could stand tall here by getting this ban reversed and apologizing to Barber and, more importantly, to the people they represent. But we’re not holding our breath.