REV. BARBER, PROTESTERS, ARRESTED AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY
By Cash Michaels
Saying that North Carolina was a “state in emergency” because of drastic budget cuts by the Republican-led General Assembly, the president of the NCNAACP and six others openly challenged NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, to meet with them, interrupting a House session at the Legislature Tuesday.
NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, NCNAACP Second Vice President Rev. Curtis Gatewood, and five others were arrested by state Capitol Police and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and second-degree trespassing. All seven were held in jail overnight, and released on $12,500 bond Wednesday morning at 2 a.m.
The “State in Emergency Seven,” as they’ve been called, chanted, “ Fund education, not incarceration,” and “save our children, don’t cut education,” stopping House proceedings.
In past weeks, Rev. Barber has blasted the Republican-led state Legislature for “draconian” cuts to the budget that would detour hundreds of millions from public education K-12 and cut the UNC System by as much as 15.5 percent.
The proposed cuts would eliminate 20,000 jobs across the state, including thousands of teachers and teachers’ assistants.
The NCNAACP leader decried GOP measures that would cripple One Stop Early Voting, repeal the NC Racial Justice Act, and require citizens to display a voter ID at the polls.
Barber was also critical of GOP leadership blocking federal unemployment benefits to at least 45,000 out-of-work citizens in an effort to force Governor Beverly Perdue to comply with their budget cuts.
Perdue has refused, blasting the GOP for making the unemployed “hostages,” and has promised to veto any budget bill she disagrees with.
According to a NCNAACP press release about the incident, “Barber and the other leaders were on their way to a mass rally in the Legislative Auditorium, attended by over 350 people from across the State. When Barber and the other leaders were dragged out of the legislative chambers, and off to jail, other HKonJ and NAACP leaders stepped up and led a People's Hearing where over 30 North Carolinians gave short reports on how the budget bills and direct attacks on public services to the poor and disenfranchised will devastate their families and neighbors.”
The NCNAACP press release continued, “Tillis later told the protesters that they needed to show more respect for "my house." Several protesters reminded him that this was the People's House--this is "Our House," they said.”
"I think it's sad that Rep Tillis said it's his house," Rev. Barber told reporters after bonding out of jail. "It's not his house, it's the people's house, and the people will be heard."
In a release from his office Tuesday, Speaker Tillis said, “Today’s disruption was one of the most disrespectful displays I have witnessed during my tenure in the House of Representatives. It was a clear violation of the rules of the House, and those rules will continue to be enforced to ensure safety and dignity in the people’s House.”
Tillis told reporters Wednesday that Rev. Barber owes “his chamber,” according to press reports, for disrupting House proceedings the previous day. He said he will not meet with Barber now because of the Capitol police investigation into the incident, but may meet with other representatives of the NCNAACP.
Previously, Tillis alleged that a meeting had been set with Rev. Barber, but that the civil rights leader had canceled. Barber alleges that he has requested a sitdown with Tillis and the GOP leadership at least three times, and had been rebuffed each time.
Published reports said state Rep, Larry Womble (D-Forsyth) went to the Wake County jail Tuesday night to make sure Rev. Barber and his colleagues were all right. Womble reportedly told reporters that he supported what Rev. Barber did.
"The cuts that the General Assembly is calling for, at least on the Republican side - education, health care and jobs - will affect North Carolina in a very negative manner," Womble told The News & Observer. "I think (Barber) is trying to call attention to this. I believe he is justified."
Those arrested and charged with Rev. Barber include Rev. Curtis Gatewood, HKonJ Coordinator; Rob Stephens, Associate Director of the Anti-Death Penalty Project; Rev. Kojo Nantambu, President of Charlotte NAACP; Timothy Hodges, Past President of Johnson County NAACP; David Lamotte, NC Council of Churches; and Rev. T. Anthony Spearman.
Rev. Barber has previously participated in acts of civil disobedience when he and others protested during two Wake County Public School Board meetings in April and July of last year. On both occasions, Rev. Barber was arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. No court dates have been set.