Let’s say you’re an ordinary citizen and you trespass on someone’s property. You come back the next day anyway. You get arrested again, and this time you’re charged with contempt. Wait – what’s that? You’re the Rev. William Barber? Never mind. Please, come inside.
The legal situation surrounding weekly protests at the Legislative Building in Raleigh is growing murkier. If you’ve been following the coverage of “Moral Mondays,” you may have heard the term “civil disobedience” being tossed around. It’s an evocative word: it hearkens to mind the courage of Henry David Thoreau, who willingly consigned himself to prison rather than support a war of aggression in Mexico. It summons images of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., braving the fire hoses and police dogs in Alabama. You might think that the protesters arrested these past weeks at “Moral Mondays” have been braving some of the same hardships.
Protesters who are arrested do not spend any time in incarceration. Most of them are cuffed with plastic flexi-cuffs instead of metal handcuffs. They get supportive hugs from General Assembly police officers. The NAACP provides free lawyers to anyone arrested, and the protesters are home by midnight. Oh, and they get souvenirs, too.
Apparently some people in the criminal justice system think that this is still too onerous a process. Colin Willoughby, the Wake County District Attorney, told Civitas that he suggested to police that it “might be appropriate to issue citations” to demonstrators instead of arresting them. In other words, protesters could get a ticket and a fine instead of being charged with a misdemeanor. And Sam Higdon, the assistant director of the Wake County detention center, told us that it was recently “agreed that the CCBI [City-County Bureau of Identification] would not process them.” This, despite the fact that the CCBI has processed all of the demonstrators previously arrested. According to General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver: “The CCBI director, Sam Pennica, stated his budget would not allow him to have additional personnel on site for any more of these arrests.”
Now that the CCBI is out of the loop, arrest reports are no longer readily accessible to the public through the online Wake County Police to Citizen (P2C) portal. Farewell, transparency.
But hey, at least we can take comfort in the fact that the police and District Attorney’s Office are enforcing the law. Or are they?
According to Lauren Ernhardt, an Assistant Attorney General with the state: “In my past experience as a prosecutor, oftentimes when someone was charged with second-degree trespass they were told not to come back, ever.” A protester writing in the liberal Daily Kos confirmed: “Those of us who have been arrested are prohibited from stepping foot into the General Assembly building and the Legislative Office Building until our cases are fully adjudicated.”
So here’s a question. Barber, the president of the NC NAACP, was arrested on April 30. But he has been consistently in the General Assembly every Monday since his arrest (with the exception of this Monday). So have other leaders from the NAACP, the Council of Churches, and other liberal organizations. Why have these people been allowed back into the General Assembly, when they’ve been previously trespassed?
Jeff Weaver, chief of the General Assembly Police, explained that the first 17 protesters – including Barber and other top leaders in Moral Mondays – were inexplicably not prohibited from returning to the General Assembly.
So who in the criminal justice system is responsible for this special treatment? Why are the Rev. Barber and 16 others not subject to the same restrictions as every other protester? Who made that call – was it a magistrate or a district attorney?
Either way, Moral Mondays could be called Murky Mondays. Maybe – maybe – next week will bring some clarity.