RALEIGH, N.C. — The NAACP's national president came to Raleigh on Thursday to show support for North Carolina members working to derail a legislative budget-cutting plan they say is disproportionately harmful to minorities, the poor and children.
Benjamin Jealous told The Associated Press in an interview prior to a news conference that he was deeply disturbed by the proposed budget cuts, as well as by the legislature's apparent attempts to block NAACP backers from airing their concerns to the General Assembly.
"We are fighting an agenda that is anti-family, unfair and would move the state backward," Jealous said. "Children, the mentally ill and the unemployed did not cause the state's budget gap. Making them suffer to close it is unfair and unwise."
Jealous' visit came one day after state NAACP leader the Rev. William Barber and six others were released from jail. The seven were arrested Tuesday for disrupting the General Assembly during a protest in the House gallery. The NAACP and affiliated groups are critical of proposed cuts in education, Medicare, mental health and social programs.
Jealous also called on state and federal officials to aggressively pursue an investigation into a death threat made against Barber.
"We take these threats seriously and we expect investigators to take these threats seriously," Jealous said.
He decried what he views as increased hostility between conservative and liberal factions in North Carolina and other places across the country.
"It's incumbent on all of us to put our heads together and figure out how we get to a better place, a more productive place," he said.
Jealous said he believes the election of President Barack Obama prompted a backlash of political activity by ultra-conservatives, who won large numbers of statehouse seats in 2010 during an election with low voter turnout.
"Now, they are seeking to aggressively curtail the electorate to ensure they maintain the majority," he said, in reference to a series of proposed voting law changes.
The changes would require all voters to show a photo ID, ban voting on Sundays and narrow the window for voters to cast ballots in advance of an election.
"Our leaders should be making it easier for working people to vote, not harder," he said.
Republican leaders were not immediately available to comment on the proposed legislation.
Barber said he and the six were arrested at the House were not read their Miranda rights.
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver said the protesters weren't read those rights because they weren't interrogated or interviewed by police.
They were only being processed for arrest, Weaver said, so the reading wasn't required.
Barber and the other six also received trespass warnings Tuesday, preventing them from returning to the Legislative Building until their judicial cases were resolved.
Weaver said Barber received a call this morning lifting that warning, and is now free to return.
He said no decision has yet been made about the lifting that warning for the other six.