By KATELYN FERRAL and GARY D. ROBERTSON
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Nearly a dozen people were cited by police Monday when they refused to leave North Carolina’s state Capitol building as they tried to ask Gov. Pat McCrory personally to reverse Republican government policies, including fracking and the refusal to expand Medicaid.
The eleven protesters, part of the continuing “Moral Monday” series of rallies, staged their latest sit-in for more than two hours inside the old 1840 Capitol, where McCrory’s office is located. While the sit-in was going on, several hundred other demonstrators rallied behind the Legislative Building in opposition to fracking and in support of expanding Medicaid in the state.
Justin Miller of Charlotte, an environmental activist and one of Monday’s sit-in protesters, said State Capitol Police charged those cited with the same offense. The citation he received showed he was charged with second-degree trespassing, a low-grade misdemeanor.
“I got to the point where doing everything within the law … doesn’t do anything and so I decided to take a stand,” Miller said.
The group entered the rotunda of the Capitol, gathered in a circle and sang and prayed, saying they would not leave until McCory granted the repeals they requested. At 5 p.m. Monday, both the Capitol building and Legislative building closed. Capitol police broke up the sing-along and shuffled dozens of protesters and press members out of the rotunda, then shut the doors with 11 demonstrators still inside.
The protesters were handcuffed and released in two groups from different entrances at the Capitol, pink citation slips in hand about two hours later. Just after the sit-in protesters were released, people from the other rally joined those at the Capitol building and the whole group marched around it singing and cheering.
McCory’s office did not immediately give a response to the activity in his office Monday.
The arrests come a week after 14 demonstrators were arrested last week when they held a sit-in within House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office at the Legislative Building. General Assembly police didn’t arrest them for several hours until 2 a.m.
Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and an architect of the rallies, denounced what he called extremism in the GOP-controlled legislature and disputed the notion that the rallies were a partisan endeavor to influence the state’s contested Senate race between House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan.
“Our adversaries are those who are not Democrat, they are not Republican, they are extremists,” he said. “We’re not challenging Thom Tillis for the office he’s aspiring to, we’re challenging him on the office he already has.”
Legislators usually meet on Monday evenings during their annual work sessions. But the House held a no-vote floor session at 4 p.m. The Senate, which worked until early Saturday morning to pass its version of the budget, doesn’t reconvene until Wednesday night.
Rally speakers on Monday urged participants to fight fracking by urging McCrory to veto the bill now on his desk to set a schedule whereby the first permits could be issued next spring. The legislature will get the chance to review the rules finalized by a state mining and energy panel and another commission before they go into effect.