Local News

ReOpenNC uses Memorial Day as backdrop for fight against virus-related restrictions

Posted May 25, 2020 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated May 25, 2020 6:49 p.m. EDT

— On a day dedicated to honoring those who died fighting for freedom, protesters gathered in Raleigh to continue their battle against pandemic-related restrictions they say infringe on their freedoms.

"We stand here in honor of the veterans who paid the highest price – their lives for our freedom," one organizer of ReOpen Wake County told a crowd in a downtown parking lot. "Today, these very freedoms are hanging in the balance."

The ReOpenNC movement, which has held Tuesday rallies since mid-April, shifted to Monday this week to align their fight against Gov. Roy Cooper's restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus with Memorial Day.

"Where’s our freedom? We have no freedom. All this is all a lie," said the owner of Tippett's Mill Bar in Zebulon, who declined to give his full name.

The man said he had spent $2,500 to prepare the bar for reopening, only to learn last week that he won't be able to reopen before the end of June.

Cooper scaled back initial plans for the second stage of a three-part plan to resume business and social activities during the pandemic, telling the owners of bars, gyms and indoor entertainment venues that they must wait at least five more weeks to reopen.

"I’ve got a business that’s still shut down for five more weeks. I got two kids, a wife, dogs, cats, all my bills," the Tippetts Mill owner said.

Joel Schlieman, owner of Jiu Jitsu Studio in Raleigh and Cary, said he could easily reopen under the same rules restaurants are allowed to operate under – 50 percent capacity, social distancing and frequent cleaning – if someone would let him.

"We’re doing our best to follow the law. We are staying closed, but I just want to be able to have a conversation about how I can open and do it safely, and there’s not anybody listening to that right now," Schlieman said. “If they can open safely, how can I not have two people in a 4,000-square-foot facility?”

After North Carolina saw its number of new coronavirus infections jump by more than 1,100 on Saturday – the state's highest one-day increase to date – some people showed up to the rally to voice their opposition to reopening any further.

"We reopened. The data has only gotten worse," said Zainab Baloch, a former Raleigh mayoral and City Council candidate. "Right now, we’re not being smart about it. We’re not putting any limitation on businesses. We’re not requiring temperature checks. We’re not requiring face masks."

ReOpenNC held Memorial Day in five cities across the state from Asheville to Wilmington. The crowd in Raleigh numbered around 200, smaller than most of the earlier rallies, but organizers said they are confident they are making an impact and they will continue putting pressure on Cooper until the state’s economy is back open in full.

Multiple law enforcement agencies were in Raleigh to patrol the area, but their presence was less visible than in past weeks. The crowd remained peaceful, despite safety concerns after comments made over the weekend by Adam Smith, the husband of one of ReOpenNC's co-founders.

Smith said in a video posted on social media that Cooper's restrictions infringe on people’s constitutional rights and that they should be willing to kill over them. He said Monday that his comments were taken out of context.

"Of course, I never want to see anyone die," the veteran Marine said. "But, as in 1776, if there does come a day where tyranny is overtaking the populace and freedoms are being removed and people are in need of defense, I will be willing to do what I took an oath in the Marine Corps to do, and that is to wage war."

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