Local Leaders Arrested During Protest Speak Out

By Rachel Nash Posted June 4, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Picture taken from previous Moral Monday Protest

CHAPEL HILL – Carrboro Mark Chilton was the first, of more than 150 people, handcuffed in the NAACP’s Mega Moral Monday Protest. Four other local elected officials would follow that night.

“They had no authority to make us leave the building. We had a constitutional right to be there and we were exercising that right,” Chilton said.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell, and Carrboro Aldermen Damon Seils, Michelle Johnson and Sammy Slade joined Chilton Monday in Raleigh, along with more than 1,500 other activists.

The protest was led by NAACP state chapter president Rev. William Barber—he’s proclaimed the now almost weekly demonstrations as a “wave of civil disobedience.” They are targeting the “regressive” policies of the GOP-led General Assembly— on issues ranging from voter ID to health care to education and more.

The Chapel Hill and Carrboro leaders decided beforehand they would not be disruptive while inside the General Assembly. They did not carry signs, sing, or clap. Their purpose was to make an appointment with House Speaker Thom Thillis.

The group maintains that they were peaceful and complied with the rules, except refusing to leave the building when the General Assembly police asked them to exit. They said that Article I, Section XII, of the State Constitution of North Carolina, allows citizens to redress their grievances with their representatives.

Chilton says his processing in the Wake County Jail didn’t take long; he was released around 9:30 Monday night, though he waited for his compatriots until about midnight. Some of those arrested later were released around 4:30 Tuesday morning.

Council member Donna Bell says her call to court states she was being “held with probable cause”—her court date is set for August 20.

“I know that Chapel Hill and other local governments have worked so hard during the years of this recession to maintain the gains that we have made over the years of this last decade,” Bell said. “I feel like the General Assembly is trying to tear that a part in a matter of seconds.”

Bell says the NAACP is working with its lawyers to determine the legality  of the Assembly Police prohibiting those who have been arrested inside the State House before – from stepping inside again. But Bell says if she isn’t allowed inside again, she will still protest outside.

“One of the best things was watching all of the folks standing on the side, cheering us on, as we were carried away in the inmate transport buses,” Bell said. “I plan to be out there in the future as they make their way to the Wake County Jail.”

And though the outcome wasn’t what he anticipated, Chilton says he was still happy to be a part of a movement he believes in.

“It was very inspiring to see the size of the crowd and to see how many people are so concerned about the future the state,” Chilton said. “It was energizing to see all that. It was moving to hear from a number of speakers at the protest about how the recent actions of Legislature are hurting the working families of North Carolina. I’m very concerned that the legislature has not only gutted our social safety net and environmental safe guards, but they are also trying to make their changes permanent by changing our system of elections in North Carolina.

Bell met people from across North Carolina at the rally—Charlotte, Wilmington, and Craven County— not just residents of the Triangle.

“There was definitely a sense of community and empowerment. And there was a sense that no one is going to stop,” Bell said.

BoA member, Damon Seils, says he didn’t view participating in the protests as a risk to his position within the community.

“I think that actually being an elected official made it more important for us to make a stand,” Seils said.

BoA member and social worker, Michelle Johnson she says when the state rejected the expansion of the federally-funded Medicaid program, that directly impacted some of her clients. She’s also against restricting voter rights.

“I’m an elected official and a social worker and a woman of color and many of the bills that are coming out of the Legislature affect lots of folks in North Carolina, especially the voter ID bills,” Johnson said. “As a community leader it strikes me that they would want to make voting harder.”

The arrests Monday mirrored the combined total of 153 from the four previous NAACP demonstrations dating back to late April. Though some state leaders have taken notice and even attended the protests, the majority seem steadfast. But Barber has vowed that the protests won’t stop until they see change.

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