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@NCCapitol

Protesters argue Legislative Building rules too vague

Posted December 3, 2013
Updated December 4, 2013

— Twelve protesters, including the state president of the NAACP, were back in court Tuesday on charges they disrupted state lawmakers during an April demonstration at the Legislative Building.

The group was the first of more than 900 people arrested during the weekly "Moral Monday" protests against the legislative agenda of the Republican-controlled General Assembly during the summer.

The protesters said lawmakers were hurting the poor, the unemployed, students and other groups through their actions. They were charged with trespassing, failing to disperse and violating Legislative Building rules.

One day of testimony in the trials of Rev. William Barber and the other 11 protesters was held in October, and the trials are expected to continue Wednesday.

General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver spent much of Tuesday on the witness stand, explaining the rules about gatherings at the Legislative Building.

"We knew they were coming to commit acts of civil disobedience." Weaver said.

Defense attorneys grilled him about where he and his officers draw the line, arguing that the rules, which were drafted in 1987, are vague and can be interpreted differently.

"It does go to the attitude of the leadership of the General Assembly than any voice of protest ought to be stifled," defense attorney Irving Joyner said..

Weaver said the protesters broke the rules by blocking a door, holding up signs and disrupting the business of the General Assembly. The protesters deny they disrupted lawmakers and maintain they were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech.

NC General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver Police chief explains how Legislative Building rules enforced during protests

"The words he used did not lead you to believe he was going to engage in violence?" defense attorney Scott Holmes asked Weaver, referring to Barber speaking to other protesters.

"I didn't hear anything about violence from Rev. Barber," Weaver replied.

"Was there anything illegal about them praying?" Holmes asked.

"There is nothing illegal about praying, but the fact that they were gathered on the second floor in an area that is not for that purpose," Weaver said.

He said the protesters were gathered outside the doors to the Senate chamber, forcing a sergeant-at-arms to lock the doors. But he acknowledged that there was no evidence that anyone trying to get into or out of the chamber was prevented from doing so, and nothing in the building rules prohibits people from standing in front of the doors.

Weaver said the protesters displayed political signs, but Holmes said the signs contained Bible verses.

"Is it fair to say if a sign only violates the rules if it is political?" Holmes asked.

"If it involves an issue surrounding legislation," Weaver said.

"You did not believe that any one of these people was engaging in violent behavior?" Holmes asked.

"I did not see any of the individuals engaging in violent behavior," Weaver said.

A handful of protesters have been convicted in the case and are appealing. A few others were acquitted. Charges against dozens of protesters were dropped after they agreed to perform community service under a deal offered by Wake County prosecutors to clear cases from the clogged court dockets.

46 Comments

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  • crkeehn Dec 4, 3:02 p.m.

    As the clouds broke and the rally wound down in the heat of the afternoon, protesters began walking into the legislative building. Several made their way to the House's observation galleries, where they proceeded to shout anti-tax slogans at legislators. A 67-year-old woman tossed tea bags onto the House floor, and several agitators got into arguments with a Republican legislator who had come to the gallery to ask them to settle down because their antics, he said, were only hurting their cause. Another protester was nearly arrested after getting into an argument with police over whether he could bring a sign into the legislative building. (He couldn't.)

    In reference to a 2009 Tea Party Rally at the Legislature.

  • Tax Man Dec 4, 12:51 p.m.

    Barber needs to change his entire platform. Instead of trying to screw up government why not help the black families stay together, get educated, get real jobs, get off welfare, pay some taxes and learn to take some personal responsibility?

  • Whosays Dec 4, 11:44 a.m.

    Blah, blah, blah. Tired of the whole circus of Barberians.

  • doctorgraves71 Dec 4, 5:47 a.m.

    "There is nothing illegal about praying, but the fact that they were gathered on the second floor in an area that is not for that purpose," Weaver said.

    So now people can pray only in designated areas? I think most rational people realize what went on last session and are aiming to change it.. You right wingers better hold on to your diapers.

  • lwe1967 Dec 3, 7:13 p.m.

    I agree with Disabled Vet. I too, am a disabled vet. Common sense doesn't seem to be in vogue today.

  • lwe1967 Dec 3, 7:12 p.m.

    Common sense should tell you that the protesters were just looking for an agenda to get arrested for this purpose. Barber is a problem. There are too many problems in the Black Community that need to be solved or try to help the people and he spends time doing this, instead of focusing on the people.

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Dec 3, 6:40 p.m.

    "We knew they were coming to commit acts of civil disobedience." GA Police Chief Jeff Weaver said.

    Presumption of innocence?

    "There is nothing illegal about praying, but the fact that they were gathered on the second floor in an area that is not for that purpose," Weaver said.

    Said area has no specified purpose.

    "He said the protesters were gathered outside doors to a legislative chamber, forcing a sergeant-at-arms to lock the doors. But he acknowledged that there was no evidence that anyone trying to get into or out of the chamber was prevented from doing so, and nothing in the building rules prohibits people from standing in front of the doors."

    If I were JUDGE: "Case dismissed. Oh, and Chief Weaver, you probably ought to step up here for a moment, and make a statement of apology to the accused."

  • Realthoughts Dec 3, 6:29 p.m.

    Yep, that is Barber. He never has any real solid facts and just shouts bible verses when people ask him any real questions. Just hoping he gets an amen!

  • dckelder Dec 3, 6:21 p.m.

    If you don't understand the rules, don't play the game. When they were asked to disband they chose not to. What was so hard to understand about that?

  • Sherlock Dec 3, 6:00 p.m.

    "There is nothing illegal about praying, but the fact that they were gathered on the second floor in an area that is not for that purpose," Weaver said. I would say that it is against the law to do that. This would mean the state support this religion over others.

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