Raleigh, N.C. — For the second straight day, protests disrupted lawmakers and led to arrests at the General Assembly on Friday.
Thirty-nine people were arrested Friday on charges of trespassing and violating Legislative Building rules, including a man dressed as Santa Claus and a woman who was breastfeeding a child.
Seventeen people were arrested on those charges Thursday. Both days, one person was charged with resisting an officer.
The House had to suspend debate on a bill combining the State Board of Elections and the Ethics Commission and that would make Supreme Court elections partisan affairs for about five minutes as police cleared the public gallery in the chamber.
As protesters shouted "All political power comes from the people," police led a couple of people out with zip-ties on their wrists.
Lawmakers then complained as the loud protests continued outside the chamber.
The crowds then went over into the Senate, where they began coughing, sneezing and humming loudly. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest finally ordered that gallery cleared when the crowd became too disruptive.
With both galleries locked shut, the crowds banged on the glass doors, chanting "Let us in. Let us in."
General Assembly police ordered people at about 3:30 p.m. to leave the building or risk arrest. A couple small groups of people then staged quiet sit-ins and were hauled off after officers gave each person one final chance to leave and avoid arrest.
"They say we are disrupting the legislature, and they are actually disrupting our democracy," said Kristen Kowzen, who refused to leave. "I don’t think that is OK, and I don’t want to be moved from that."
"Is this really the people's house when the people are getting locked out?" asked protester Melissa Price Kromm.
Rep. Chris Sgro, D-Guilford, chided his House colleagues for criticizing the protesters, saying they were simply exercising their constitutional rights.
"Yes, it's loud out there. I can still hear you. I known you can still hear me. They can hear all of us," Sgro said. "We should be a little more respectful of our constituents, whether they agree with us or not, when engaging in civil disobedience."
Sgro's comments irked House Speaker Tim Moore. Disagreements are part of the political process, but disruptions cross the line, he said.
"There's a difference between coming and making your voice heard ... and engaging in conduct actively designed with the clear purpose of doing nothing but interfering with the deliberations and the actions of the legislature," said Moore, R-Cleveland. "The voters of this state sent us here to do a job, and that's what we are trying to do, despite the interference of some who are violating the law."
Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, said the protesters were trying to get the message across to lawmakers that the results of the November election, when Democrat Roy Cooper defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, should be respected.
"This whole shenanigan is unconstitutional and out of order," Barber said of the special session two weeks before the end of some lawmakers' terms. "What they are passing in there, we believe is invalid."
As Barber spoke, protesters chanted "Shame. Shame. Shame."