RALEIGH — Hundreds of legislative protesters on Monday tested the limits of a new court order uprooting rules that they said were designed to keep them at bay — and the result was 19 arrests.
Signs and shouting aplenty, the protesters streamed onto the second floor of the General Assembly rotunda just outside the golden doors of the Senate chamber. They also spilled over onto the third floor as they prayed, sang and chanted their displeasure at GOP-led policies they say are extreme and immoral.
New building rules adopted last month prohibited activities that would create an imminent disturbance in the Legislative Building, such as sounds that hindered someone's ability to have a conversation in a "normal tone of voice" and certain types of signs. Those provisions were shot down temporarily by a Wake County judge on Friday after the N.C. NAACP filed a suit arguing that the rules were unconstitutional, overly broad and vague.
Judge Carl Fox partially agreed with the NAACP in his ruling: He said he did not see how signs could be disturbing, and noted there was no clear outline in the rules of what constituted a normal tone of voice or an imminent disturbance. He upheld a rule banning signs attached to sticks "as a rational and reasonable safety measure," according to the restraining order, which is in effect until June 26, the last day before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn.
Earlier, the group gathered for their weekly rally on Halifax Mall featuring AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and other state and federal union groups calling for collective bargaining rights and a higher minimum wage.
The loud rally began before the Senate began its evening session and continued well into the meeting until General Assembly police asked everyone to disperse.
The noise could be heard in the chamber, with Senators saying they had trouble hearing one another.
One of those arrested Monday was Amber Matthews, a single mother from Greensboro who earns $8 an hour at a fast-food restaurant after four years on the job. Matthews, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said she makes too much to get Medicaid and too little to be able to afford insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
"I have to make sacrifices to get her the stuff that she needs," she said.
At a news conference following the arrests, the Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, and a leader of the "Moral Monday" protests, questioned and condemned the General Assembly for not extending Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax credit and refund for low- or middle-income workers based on wages. The credit has been supported by both parties in the past.
"They are stuck in an ideological time warp," he said.
Lt. Martin Brock, of the General Assembly Police, ordered the arrest of the protesters after asking them to leave several times. He said the protest was disrupting the General Assembly's attempt to do business.