RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina's NAACP leader challenged new rules concerning public assembly in the State Legislative Building as part of protests on Wednesday targeting legislative policies by GOP leaders who control both chambers.
About 75 people — many of them Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy — gathered at a downtown church before marching to the Legislature on the day the session reconvened. At the church, the group discussed key issues listed in their open letter to lawmakers, including reversing what they see as restrictive voting rights policies, expanding Medicaid and raising minimum wage.
In the Rotunda between the House and Senate chambers, the religious leaders gave speeches highlighting those issues and led prayers for more than an hour.
After those talks, Barber turned attention to new rules on public assembly by asking the group to follow him in a lap around the circular space.
A law enforcement official stopped Barber at a cordon near the House chamber. A tense exchange of several minutes ended with Barber turning back to the group and suggesting NAACP lawyers would take up the issue. The group left the rotunda without any arrests.
"Now, our goal is not to be arrested today," he told them. "Later on we might change that."
A memo issued this month from the Legislative Services Office says police can designate separate areas to allow legislators to come and go from the chambers: "The designated areas must allow unobstructed entrance and exit of the chambers."
Still, the Jan. 13 memo states: "Nothing in these restrictions may be used to deny the use of the 2nd Floor Rotunda based on the content of the speech that is or may be expressed in that area."
Barber complained loudly about being prevented from walking through a public area.
"That is like telling us we can't walk on the sidewalk," he said.
In a separate area of the building, activists received copies of a letter with the coalition's agenda to deliver to individual lawmakers.
At the office of House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, aide William Morales stood in the doorway and said Barber and others couldn't enter. Morales said he could have Barber arrested if he touched him.
Eventually a woman squeezed through, and Barber and several others entered. They delivered the letter and left after several minutes.
At their peak, the demonstrations that started during the 2013 legislative session drew thousands. About 1,000 people were arrested in previous years. About half resolved their cases with fines and nearly all the other cases were dropped last year.
Associated Press Photographer Gerry Broome contributed to this report.
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.