by Bob Geary
Five UNC system students, members of the NC Student Power Union, were arrested at the General Assembly yesterday. They were part of a larger demonstration of about 100 students and others in the front of the General Assembly building, the purpose of which is explained in the statement released this morning by NCSPU.
When the protesters arrived on West Jones Street, police formed a line across the front of the building. Since the building is open to the public, it's unclear to me what authority they were invoking to keep selected people out. That said, when five of the protesters crossed through the police line, they were arrested. Others who were not part of the protest simply went around the line and entered the building freely. It suggests to me that the police were barring people from entry based on their political beliefs, which would seem to be a pretty clear First Amendment violation.
One of the students arrested, UNC-Chapel Hill senior Zaina Alsous, made a video prior to the demonstration explaining why she intended to engage in an act of civil disobedience. It's about 2:00 long — worth a look.
Here's what the police line looked like before the protesters crossed it —
And the statement from the NCSPU —
Raleigh, NC — Yesterday, on May Day, the NC Student Power Union mobilized over 350 students from 10 colleges from around the state to participate in a demonstration against the legislature's regressive agenda.
Students began their day with a rally at the NCSU Bell Tower and then marched to the Civitas Institute, a far-right think tank funded by multimillionaire and Deputy State Budget Director Art Pope. The demonstration raised opposition to the avalanche of backwards policies being advanced by legislators. They joined a broader coalition of workers, immigrant rights, and many other community organizations for a march from Moore Square Park to the NC legislature.
When the march arrived at Jones Street, students, young people, and others took over the street, and five sat down with a banner that read “We Demand a Future! Stop budget cuts! Stop racist voter laws! Stop attacks on workers!”
During the street occupation that lasted for nearly an hour, leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NC NAACP, the AFL-CIO, and the Southern Workers Assembly, among others, delivered messages of support and solidarity as students spoke out against the attacks.
Demonstrators then attempted to bring their demands for justice into the legislature and five were arrested — Jessica Injejikian (UNC Charlotte), Tristan Munchel and Dhruv Pathak (UNC Greensboro), and Zaina Alsous and Carissa Morrison (UNC Chapel Hill). All 5 were charged with disorderly conduct, and Morrison and Pathak were additionally charged with misdemeanor assault on a government official.
“We stand behind these 5 students who took a bold and powerful action today and put their bodies on the line to stop the attacks on the people of NC,” said Juan Miranda, a student at UNCG. “Our hope is that many others are inspired to join the fight back against these forces from destroying our state and taking us backwards. We will fight these charges to the end. The fact that these students were arrested simply for peacefully trying to enter and bring their demands into the 'People's House' is absurd, and the additional charges that Morrison and Pathak received are entirely baseless.”
In a statement, Pathak explained why he participated in civil disobedience. “Education should be affordable and accessible to all students. The right wing legislature and current budget proposal will make it harder for students to get into school and stay in school. My family struggles with finances everyday and has trouble making ends meet. The last thing I need is a multimillionaire writing the state budget who wants to take away my financial aid...That's why I took this action today.”
Students have vowed that they will be back to continue demonstrations throughout the summer with other organizations, and as long as is needed.