RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The first round of protesters arrested in NAACP-led demonstrations at the North Carolina legislature are heading to court the same day the group plans to hold its latest rally against the conservative policies of the GOP majorities.
The 17 protesters due in court Monday were expected to plead not guilty to misdemeanor charges of trespassing, failure to disperse and breaking legislative building rules. The other approximately 450 protesters arrested in seven weeks of demonstrations face similar charges.
The day’s court proceedings will only lay out the pleas of defendants. It’s not certain how the protesters will be tried or even if they’ll face prosecution. Initial hearings for other rounds of protesters are scheduled throughout July.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, a Democrat, said Friday that he hasn’t decided what to do with protesters from what the NAACP calls “Moral Mondays.” He said he hasn’t yet received video footage and other evidence from the police.
NAACP legal adviser Irv Joyner says the group will contest charges on Constitutional grounds and on the evidence of each individual case. He said he believes Constitutional guarantees of freedom to assemble and to “instruct” legislators makes it unlawful to charge peaceful demonstrators with trespassing and other crimes.
Michael Gerhardt, an expert in Constitutional law at the University of North Carolina, said those laws aren’t unconstitutional as written, so the civil rights group will have to show that they have been applied differently depending on the political views of groups asserting their rights.
Chapter president the Rev. William Barber will be among the 17 in court. He’s calling for a mass rally with more arrests following the court date.
Protesters showing up in growing numbers are angry about the rightward tilt of the state since Republicans gained control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion — the first time they’ve held both branches of government at the same time since 1870. At rallies before entering the General Assembly to face arrest they rail against decisions to forego Medicaid expansion under the federal health care overhaul, cut unemployment benefits, pursue tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy and other policies.
Republicans have dismissed the protests and vowed to hold firmly to their agenda.
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