@NCCapitol

State NAACP president pleads guilty to disrupting Legislature

Posted May 7, 2012 11:36 a.m. EDT
Updated May 7, 2012 6:42 p.m. EDT

— The president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP pleaded guilty Monday to a disorderly conduct charge, stemming from a protest last year at the General Assembly.

Rev. William Barber and six others were arrested May 24 during a protest that was part of a rally against Republican lawmakers' state budget plan, which the group complained did not adequately address the needs of children, low-income people and other vulnerable groups.

He will not face any jail time, probation or court costs, however, he will have the misdemeanor on his record.

Rev. Curtis Gatewood, also with the group, also pleaded guilty Monday to a disorderly conduct charge. As part of a plea deals, Wake County prosecutors dropped trespassing charges against the five other protesters.

Barber said that he was arrested for asking House Speaker Thom Tillis to meet with him, a request he shouted from the upstairs House gallery while others with him chanted slogans and Bible verses.

Tillis called the disruption "one of the most disrespectful displays" he had witnessed while serving in the state House and said afterward that he was willing to meet with others from the NAACP but not Barber.

Barber said he had made numerous requests prior to the protest but that they were denied.

"We wouldn't be here if the leadership of the General Assembly, i.e., Speaker Tillis, would spend more time meeting with people than having midnight sessions to pass budgets that hurt North Carolina," Barber, surrounded by a group of supporters, said Monday outside the Wake County, after his plea.

Tillis could not be reached for comment Monday.

The case, Barber's supporters added, is another effort to silence protesters' voices.

But Wake County Assistant District Attorney Steven Saad said that was not the case.

"The state has no issue with people wanting to express their opinion and show some sort of discourse against what the government does," Saad said. "What we have to understand is that for the government to work efficiently, those things have to have certain manner restrictions."

In March, Barber also pleaded guilty to a second-degree trespassing charge for bringing a Wake County Board of Education meeting to a standstill in June 2010.

He and others spoke for more than 20 minutes against the school system's student assignment plan and took over school board members' seats during a subsequent recess.