Wake, Raleigh closing downtown offices as precaution against inauguration protests
Posted January 15, 2021 1:08 p.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2021 6:27 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County officials told employees on Friday that most county offices in downtown Raleigh will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday as a precaution against any political protests tied to Joe Biden's presidential inauguration.
Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said city offices also will be closed on Wednesday, and employees will work remotely.
The county's move affects offices in the Wake County Justice Center, the courthouse, the Public Safety Center and the county office building.
"We’re taking this proactive step because we’ve heard the widespread calls for protests next week amidst the presidential inauguration," County Manager David Ellis said in a statement. "The safety of our residents and our employees is our top priority, and based on the proximity of these buildings to the State Capitol, we feel this is the appropriate action to take."
City and county offices also will be closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
Courts will continue to operate in the Justice Center and the courthouse next Tuesday and Wednesday, but District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said that could change if the situation calls for it.
"Employees, when they see that the county is shutting down and other types of law enforcement alerts that are going out, that raises their anxiety," Freeman said.
North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby sent a letter to sheriffs statewide on Friday asking for extra security at courthouses over the next week.
Following last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol, the FBI has warned authorities in all 50 state capitals to be on alert over the next week for any demonstrations by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump designed to disrupt the transfer of power.
A flier circulating on social media promotes armed protests at the U.S. Capitol and all 50 state capitols. North Carolina law prohibits people engaged in a protest from carrying firearms.
Gov. Roy Cooper has already mobilized 350 North Carolina National Guard members to assist law enforcement in Raleigh, with another 300 headed to Washington, D.C., for support.
“It feels more aggressive. It feels a little more dangerous," said Julie Woods, who works downtown. "I think people are a little more concerned, seeing as how we had a fairly dangerous situation in the summer time."
In late May and early June, rioters damaged and looted buildings downtown following protests over George Floyd's death in police custody in Minnesota.
“Everybody is nervous. We hope we will never see the end of [last] May again," said Rashid Salahat, the owner of a Subway sandwich shop on Fayetteville Street, which had its windows shattered during the 2020 riots.
Salahat is still working to rebound from lost profits, and he said he plans to stay open this weekend.
“It’s a mixed feeling. I am worried about my employees and worried about my store, but I encourage all businesspeople in downtown Raleigh to stay open," he said. "I call for those people who plan to protest to consider others. Show love to your country."
Baldwin said Raleigh leaders and law enforcement authorities learned from the summer riots and will use those lessons now.
"It is about preparation. It’s about collaboration, working together, sharing information," she said. "We are prepared. We are ready, and we are going to protect out city. We are going to protect our Capitol.”
Raleigh police, the Wake County Sheriff's Office, the State Highway Patrol, the State Capitol Police and other agencies are coordinating a unified response.
The Department of Public Safety "remains extremely vigilant in its public safety efforts," DPS Secretary Erik Hooks said. "We continue to seek and share information concerning any potential threats to our critical infrastructure, residents and visitors."
Salahat wants Raleigh to enact a 6 p.m. curfew over the next few days, and he's called Raleigh police and the FBI seeking more patrols downtown. Baldwin said she plans to stick with the statewide 10 p.m. curfew but will continue to monitor the situation to see if an earlier curfew is needed.
“Quite frankly, we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and that is what we are doing," she said.
"“I feel like there is an undercurrent of people who are not going to be satisfied with being calm, and we have to watch out for that," Wood said.