By MICHAEL BIESECKER
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ More than 70 protesters were taken to jail during the weekly Moral Monday protests at the North Carolina General Assembly, bringing the total number arrested in the legislative session to about 900.
In a change from past weeks, state House leaders moved their Monday night session to 4 p.m., three hours earlier than usual. That left the protesters massing shortly before 7 p.m. in the atrium outside the legislative chambers, singing and chanting in a largely empty building.
Though the schedule change had been announced last week, North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber accused the Republican majority of trying to duck the protesters.
“You can run, but you can hide,” Barber chided lawmakers in addressing the crowd. “When we come here and they are here, they want to drag us out. Then when they knew the national TV was on them, they tucked their tails and ran.”
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver made no move to arrest anyone until about 7:15 p.m., after Barber told protesters to sit on the floor and signal that they were ready to stay “as long as necessary.” At that point, Weaver used a bull horn to declare that the building was closed and gave people five minutes to disperse.
There are no hours of operation posted on the doors of the legislative building, which typically remains open to the public whenever legislators and staff members are working. When the legislature is out of session, the doors are typically locked sometime after 5 p.m.
Because neither the House nor Senate was in session Monday night, there were no official proceedings to disrupt by making noise. Weaver said those arrested would be charged with failure to disperse and second-degree trespassing, both misdemeanors.
Those waiting patiently in line to be handcuffed included a man wearing full colonial-era garb as well as an aging Korean War veteran who walked with the assistance of a wooden cane.
Monday’s protests were intended to call attention to a slew of changes to voting rules expected to be approved by the GOP majority later this week. Those include provisions requiring voters to present state-issued photo ID at the polls, curtailing early voting days and a measure that would force parents of college students to pay more in taxes if their children vote in the communities where they go to school. Critics said all are designed to keep groups more likely to cast their ballots for Democrats from voting.
This was the 12th straight week of Moral Monday protests, which began in May with a few hundred people. The protests have since grown, drawing a couple of thousand each week.
Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2010 for the first time in more than a century, but did not cement full control of state government until GOP Gov. Pat McCrory took office in January.
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck