By Marti Maguire
RALEIGH N.C. (Reuters) - Fourteen protesters were arrested on Wednesday morning after staging a 10-hour sit-in at the office of one of the leaders of North Carolina’s Republican majority.
The arrests at the offices of the state house speaker were the first this year involving the so-called Moral Monday protesters, who oppose the policies of the state’s first Republican-dominated legislature in 100 years.
Last year, 945 people were arrested at weekly gatherings led by the state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during a session in which lawmakers cut unemployment benefits, required voter identification and tightened regulations for abortion clinics.
Critics of the conservative shift returned along with lawmakers this month, covering their mouths with tape on the first Monday to protest new restrictions on demonstrations in the legislative building passed in the first days of the session.
When legislators returned to their offices on Tuesday from the Memorial Day holiday they were met by protesters carrying signs and asking for the repeal of last year’s laws.
By 3:30 p.m., a small group had refused to leave speaker Thom Tillis’s office until he met with them.
Supporters brought in pizza and sleeping bags. All but one of the 15 protesters remained in the office despite threats of arrest until about 1:45 a.m., when they were charged with second-degree trespassing. All have posted bail.
Those arrested include eight fast-food workers, four clergy members, a housing expert and a retired public school employee, according to the NAACP. One of them, 27-year-old Crystal Price, is a mother of two who is suffering from cervical cancer.
According to the NAACP, Price has been impacted by recent decisions to deny Medicaid expansion and eliminate tax credits for the poor.
The Reverend William Barber, president of the state NAACP, chastised Tillis for refusing to discuss the policies he helped craft with the protesters. Tillis is seeking to unseat sitting U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat, in elections this fall.
"People will die as a result of these cruel policies that have been put in place," Barber said in a statement released Wednesday. "We cannot stand idly by as our brothers and sisters are hurting."
(Editing by David Adams and Andrew Hay)