Raleigh, N.C. — Police records indicate that 98 percent of those arrested during the "Moral Monday" protests at the General Assembly are from North Carolina, despite claims by leading Republicans that the rallies are packed with people from out of state.
The NAACP-led protests marked their sixth week at the General Assembly Monday. Organizers have used the rallies to decry what they say are harmful policies put forward by the Republican-controlled legislature. They have raised objections to tax reform packages making their way through the legislature, as well as bills aimed at restarting the death penalty, curtailing unemployment benefits and allowing for private school vouchers.
"It's my understanding that a lot of these people are from out of state," Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said Monday night. "That's the reports that we're getting."
Brown's comments reflect those of a number of Republican leaders, including Gov. Pat McCrory.
"Outsiders are coming in, and they're going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin," McCrory told The Associated Press over the weekend, referring to that state's governor.
Walker and Republican legislators in Wisconsin passed a contentious law in 2011 that stripped most state workers' collective bargaining rights.
"They are going to come in and try to change the subject, and I'm not going to let them," McCrory said. "I'm going to concentrate on the economy, education and government efficiency."
Kim Genardo, a spokeswoman for McCrory, said, "The governor respects the right of people to protest. This is a democracy."
But she also added that her office had "noticed the influence of various outside groups."
A number of Republicans have pointed out, for example, that George Gresham, a union leader from New York, was one of the speakers and arrested at a recent protest.
However, the claim that "outsiders" are responsible for the rallies appears to be inaccurate based on the sample of those who have been arrested.
Each week, the protests begin with a rally outside the legislative building. Then, the protesters move inside to an area just outside the House and Senate chambers. There, they sing, hold up signs and testify about their differences with the legislature.
When they fail to leave, the General Assembly Police, with help from the Raleigh police, arrest protesters who fail to clear the area.
Of the 388 people who have been arrested over those six weeks, arrest records indicate only eight – or 2 percent – are from out of state. While not all who come to the rallies get arrested, the records provide the best verifiable snapshot into the makeup of the protesters.
Asked if it makes a difference to him that so few protesters were coming from outside North Carolina, Brown said, "Not to me, it doesn't." He said Republican lawmakers would still push forward with policies they believed to be right for the state.
"We are agitated, but not from the outside," Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, said Tuesday. "We are agitated because of what's happening inside our state, inside the Governor’s Office and inside the North Carolina General Assembly that will harm so many so deeply so unnecessarily inside our state."
One of the prompts for the "outsider" remarks by Republicans may be the involvement of The Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has helped organize the protests and solicit media coverage. As well, Barber's own claims to a widespread coalition have prompted criticism from GOP leaders. He was traveling out of state during this week's protests to rally more support for the movement.
“The planned arrests being fueled by outside influence is not 'moral' at all," state Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope said in a recent news release. "Rev. Barber has proudly stated that protesters are coming from as far away as New York, California and Florida, but we are confident that they don’t know North Carolina like we know North Carolina."
Another criticism of the protests has been that they have required extra law enforcement, which has been costly, during the past few weeks.
A spokesman for the Raleigh Police Department said the city has spent at least $31,500 in overtime and other personnel costs. Two weeks ago, the General Assembly Police had pegged the extra costs of the protests at $11,000, a number that has risen since then. Officials with the Wake County Detention Center have also reported having to provide extra staffers and magistrates in order to process the influx of protesters on Mondays.