Raleigh, N.C. — After weeks of Monday protests in which dozens of people were arrested at the General Assembly, a Wednesday afternoon protest ended with only eight people taken away by police.
The "Witness Wednesday" event coincided with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of NAACP activist Medgar Evers outside his Jackson, Miss., home.
The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP led the protest, which included the same criticism of Republican-backed legislation, from slashing unemployment benefits to using state money to provide vouchers for some students to attend private schools, that has marked the weekly "Moral Monday" protests.
"The Holy Scriptures declare that, when we stand for righteousness, when we heed the call to do what is right, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses of those who died – or suffered and died – who have gone on but now sit in glory, and they cheer us on," said Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president.
"It is the great witness of those who died before us and who fought before us that is the ultimate critique on the immoral and extreme legislation coming out of this General Assembly and out of the Governor's Office," Barber said. "When you attack poor people, when you attack voting rights, when you attack the most vulnerable, that's wrong. Their blood speaks."
MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, said the "list of injustices" that lawmakers have produced this year is long, but the cuts to unemployment benefits was the most "callous and cruel."
Thousands of residents statewide will lose their extended jobless benefits on July 1 because of the overhaul to North Carolina's unemployment system.
"The reason that 170,000 families will lose their lifeline is that our governor and this legislature had no compassion at all for the unemployed," McMillan said, leading the crowd to chant "shame, shame, shame."
After about 40 minutes of speeches, about 80 people marched into the General Assembly, singing and clapping, and they scoffed at Republican claims that the protests are packed with people from outside of North Carolina.
"The outsider seems to be the legislator who does not understand what the people of North Carolina are standing up and demonstrating for," said Donald Matthews, a protester from Raleigh.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger both declined to comment on the protest.
Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel was among the eight arrested. "I'm proud to be here, proud to be with this group of people," Schewel said before he was led off.
Rocky Mount City Councilman Andre Knight, Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman and NAACP branch presidents from Rocky Mount, Wayne County, Northampton County and Randolph County also were arrested.
All were charged with violation of the building rules, failure to disperse, and trespassing, according to General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver.