Throughout the entire saga of ‘Money Mondays,’ Civitas has kept a close eye on how public officials have handled the protests. Earlier this summer, we reported on the feeble performance of Colon Willoughby (D – Wake), the District Attorney for Wake County. After only a few protests, Mr. Willoughby urged police officers to issue the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket to protesters, instead of arresting them. From this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal, it seems that Willoughby has gone even further:
[Colon Willoughby] said police could save money and resources by issuing citations to law-breaking protestors, and he expressed concerns that the General Assembly police might be responding to political pressures by arresting protestors instead.
In other words, Colon Willoughby is accusing Chief Jeff Weaver of the General Assembly Police of putting politics before the law. That’s a major accusation, and if he has proof he should present his evidence as he would be required to do in a courtroom. Weaver is a non-partisan official charged with enforcing the laws of the state. Colon Willoughby, by contrast, holds an elected position. Willoughby has been in office since 1986. This of course has involved running in a partisan election every four years.
There are very good reasons to arrest protesters. For one thing, they are breaking the law. If you go and willfully try and prevent someone from the use of property, public or private, and you are asked to leave you will be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. This is just as true at the General Assembly. But arrests are particularly crucial in this case because they prevent the system from completely falling apart. If the General Assembly Police were to stop arresting protesters, disrupting use of the space would become the new normal for all protests. In the absence of any real sanction for lawbreaking, protesters could escalate.
Last week in Texas, state police had to confiscate “one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint” along with “significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter, and confetti.” So far nothing similar has occurred in North Carolina, due, no doubt, to the conscientious enforcement of Chief Weaver and his officers and the efforts of Money Monday organizers to keep the protests from generating bad publicity.
Wake County has a history of treating those engaged in “civil disobedience” gently. In March 2012 some of the protesters arrested disrupting the Wake County School Board in 2010 were finally sentenced. They were allowed to plead guilty, given community service and have their records expunged after completing the service. A number of those arrested recently had also been arrested back in 2010 for disrupting the Wake Board of Education meetings.
Mr. Willoughby’s accusation against Chief Weaver is spurious, and obstructs the very process that he is charged with upholding. If these same folks were disrupting his office he might not feel so disposed to them. Maybe Wake voters should take note of how he handles these cases and if past practices have encouraged more disruptions.