Raleigh, N.C. — State Capitol Police said 120 people were arrested Monday following the largest NAACP-led demonstration yet against the policies of the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature.
The eighth week of what the civil rights group calls "Moral Mondays" brought the number of people facing charges to nearly 600. Hours before the most recent group left the General Assembly building in plastic handcuffs, the first batch of protesters appeared in Wake County Court for an initial hearing.
Glen Allen, the state capitol police chief, estimated that about 1,500 people attended a rally behind the Legislative Building before protesters choosing to face arrest entered the building. He said the figure was based on crowd samples of his officers, who differed somewhat on the estimate but considered the crowd to be the largest since demonstrations began in late April.
NAACP organizers put the number well above the police figure, comparing the crowd size to estimates at previous political rallies there.
The rally and protest inside the Legislative Building centered on looming unemployment benefits cuts that will end extended benefits for about 70,000 recipients at the end of June. Earlier this year, North Carolina became the only state in the U.S. opting to restrict benefits to pay down a debt to the federal government.
Unemployed workers who face the June 30 cut-off date said their payments have been eaten up by expensive stopgap health care plans and other basic expenses. Lee Creighton, a Raleigh man who said he's had trouble finding work after going back to school to get a master's degree, said Republicans who control state government for the first time in more than a century stereotype the unemployed as deadbeats taking a timeout from working.
"If this is such a vacation, why do I cry to sleep every night?" he said, his voice quivering.
Protester Philip Diehl said his unemployment benefits will soon be wiped away as he continues his recovery from cancer.
"Luckily for me, I'm in remission," he said. "Making these changes with unemployment is not right ... I'm a real person in North Carolina, and I matter."
Among those arrested was state AFL-CIO President James Andrews, who also focused on unemployment cuts in his critique of Republican policies from a labor standpoint. Protesters appearing in growing numbers are angry over the state's shift to the right on economic, social, education and voting policy.
The Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president, decried a decision by the conservative Civitas Institute last week to publish photos and employment information of those arrested. He said protesters are "outside the politics of meanness" and won't be deterred.
The research group — supported by state budget director Art Pope, a lightning rod of left-leaning groups — found the vast majority of those arrested are in-state residents and are predominantly over the age of 46. The group also included an interactive quiz using mug shots of arrested protesters, which critics have called tactless.
Most of the 120 people arrested Monday were middle-aged or older. A 92-year-old woman said she first got involved with civil rights activism 75 years ago.
Barber has said demonstrations that draw attention to the Republican agenda will continue even after the General Assembly ends its regular session this summer.
The rallies are attracting national media attention; both MSNBC and Fox News had reporters at Monday's event.