'Moral Monday' crowd rallies for women's rights; 101 arrested

Posted July 14, 2013 11:52 p.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2013 11:04 p.m. EDT

— About 100 people were arrested Monday after their singing and clapping protest outside the state Senate chamber was declared an unlawful assembly, in what has become a weekly demonstration against Republican initiatives.

The 11th 'Moral Monday' protest at the state legislative building focused on the rights and leadership of women and decried the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a Florida man who claimed self defense in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The protests, led by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, have drawn thousands from across the state and made headlines across the country, most recently in the New York Times. General Assembly Police said 101 people – more than two-thirds of them women – were arrested Monday on charges of disorderly conduct, trespassing and violating building rules, raising the total number of arrests to over 800. 

Jeannie Franklin, 66, and Grace Stitt, 65, both of Black Mountain, said they'd been wanting to attend the weekly rally and tackled the eight-hour round trip on a bus they said was chartered by the Buncombe County Democratic Party.

"I felt like I needed to do something more than write an email to a senator or representative because I'm not sure those are ever read," Stitt said. "I guess I felt like I haven't spoken up enough and it's time to make my statement."

N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber II said women have been a critical part of the 'Moral Monday' movement, even before both the Senate and the House tacked sweeping abortion legislation onto unrelated bills in recent weeks. 

"When we started Moral Mondays and the first group went to jail, the women were at the front line," he said. "The sisters are here, the sisters have been here and the sisters are here to stay."

Barber became visibly emotional as he explained that he planned to be absent from Monday's protest but returned early from the NAACP National Convention after hearing the Zimmerman verdict.

"The thing that became clear to me, through all the anger and hurt I was feeling, for the lesser value the racialized Southern culture places on black life, is that I needed to come home to talk to my other kids, and I needed to be here with you," he said. "When you are hurting, you  need to be around some people who still believe in the possibility of us being one people."

Barber said the case highlights the need to curb gun violence and slammed GOP-proposed legislation that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses and in restaurants and bars. 

"They want more guns than they want citizens in the people's house," he said. 

Barber and other activists are leading the charge against legislation rejecting the expansion of Medicaid to the working poor, slashing benefits to the unemployed, eliminating jobs in public education and placing restrictions on voting.

Organizers say they plan to keep protesting. Next week's rally will focus on voting rights and their impact on public education and criminal justice.

Assuming the General Assembly will adjourn before the end of the month, members of the state NAACP said they are recruiting people to attend protests in other cities across the state.

Last week, the New York Times ripped the GOP policies, prompting Gov. Pat McCrory to respond Saturday. He praised the state's leadership for making "the tough decisions that we were elected to do."