Banned from the building

A number of us who were arrested on May 30 were in court for the hearing on Wednesday.

 

I have been banned from the building where North Carolina legislators work.

I am told I have no right to address my legislators, even though the North Carolina Constitution guarantees me that right.

I am told I can’t go back until the second-degree, misdemeanor trespass charge against me has been resolved.

But the last time I was arrested for the same charge, I was never tried. The charges just sat there, unaddressed by the court, for two years before they were finally dismissed for failure to prosecute.

This is what they want to do: Keep those of us who disagree with the radical and cruel turn our state has taken in the last six years out of their way and silent.

I was arrested on May 30 for trying to go into the (public) office of NC Senate leader Phil Berger. Two guards blocked the door and told me it was private property. It is not. They told me I have no right to go in and wait to speak to him. I did and I do. They shushed me. If you know me, you know I will not be shushed.

Were we disruptive? After we were denied access, we did begin to chant, sing and pray. We were there to talk about health care, not to be disruptive and certainly not to be arrested, although we knew that was a distinct possibility.

What I really wanted was the chance to speak to Sen. Berger. I have tried again and again, but he refuses to see me. Instead he has had me arrested twice (then-Speaker, now US Senator, Thom Tillis had me arrested the first time).

My release form tells me I am to stay out of the General Assembly Building “until authorized to return.” It says nothing about who will authorize or when. In essence, it bans me for life, along with the 31 others who were arrested with me.

We challenged that order in court. Our hearing was Wednesday and I was appalled at the behavior of the judge who heard the case. He repeatedly interrupted our attorney with disrespectful comments and inane questions, once comparing the order to an order to keep disruptive people off the property of a Sheetz gas station.

Our attorney, Geeta Kapur, had to remind him that people have no constitutional right to speak to the employees of a gas station, but we do have the express right to address our legislators at the place where we pay them to be — in the building we paid to build and continue to pay to maintain.

After repeated interruptions as our attorney tried to explain our argument, she finally said, “Your honor, if you would stop interrupting me, I would be happy to answer the question.”

It was obvious he agreed with the order, which could have come from the General Assembly Police or the legislative leadership — neither of whom want to be bothered with anyone critical of their radical policies. It was also obvious the judge had no respect for us or our attorney. He was very much up front about that, and very obviously not impartial.

He amended the order to say we have to stay out until charges are dealt with, but that could mean two years if they do the same thing they did in 2015. Some of us can go into the building if we are invited for a specific meeting with a specific legislator. But those of us who have previous second-degree trespass arrests can’t — even though my previous two charges were dismissed. That means I continue to be punished for a crime for which I was not found guilty.

We are not willing to go quietly, though, and Rev. William Barber has promised we will appeal. In 2013, the order to keep out of the building was overturned quickly, and I imagine this one will be overturned on appeal.

The thing is, all of you should worry about this. It is not just an order to silence 31 people. If  it stands, this is an infringement on our rights as citizens, on our rights to assemble and speak freely, on our right to instruct our lawmakers. The radicals in that building want to silence us and to do their work in secret.

The US Supreme Court has found their voting restrictions illegal. The US Supreme Court has found their gerrymandered districts illegal. Both decisions were unanimous.

In other words, these people who are dismantling our social safety net, our education system and our voting rights are not in that building legally. Their very election was illegal.

When their candidate lost the governor’s office, they robbed the governor of many of his powers, including his power to appoint his own cabinet. They robbed the attorney general of his power to sue them over their illegal activities.

This is a coup and we the people are the only ones who can stop it. There are 32 of us who are not free to address our legislators where they do their work. We need others to go in and speak for us. We can’t let them silence us.

 

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