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Gov. Cooper's Office: ReOpen Protest OK, But Police May 'Intervene' If People Are Too Close

North Carolina Legislative building
North Carolina Legislative building

Gov. Roy Cooper’s legal counsel said today a planned protest Tuesday by the group ReOpen NC is allowed under the stay-at-home order.

North Carolina Legislative building
North Carolina Legislative building

William McKinney wrote in a letter Monday that the protest planned for the state capitol grounds must be outside and that people stay six feet apart.  He said that police may “intervene” to protect the public and protesters if people are too close together.

At the first ReOpen NC protest on April 14, one person was arrested, and the Raleigh Police Department Tweeted that “protesting is a non-essential activity.”

That prompted the group to ask Cooper over the weekend if tomorrow’s protest would be allowed.

The group’s attorney, Anthony Biller, sent a letter to Cooper over the weekend asking for clarity as to whether Tuesday’s protest will be allowed. The stay-at-home order – which is in effect until April 29 —  prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.

He said it would be ridiculous for the protest to be in violation of the order.

“That’s the arbitrary nature of it,” he said. “If (the protesters) all lied and said, 'We’re going to go for a walk and exercise around the state capitol' – legal. If they say, 'We’re going to go to the state capitol to express our displeasure, to assemble to petition the government to stop doing what it's doing' – illegal.”

Ashley Smith, a small business owner from Morganton, is a leader of ReOpen NC. She said her group has a plan to stay six feet apart, but she anticipates some people may not follow the social distancing requirements.

ReOpen NC has roughly 60,000 members to its Facebook page, Smith said.

“We’re going to work very hard to stay within the parameters,” she said. “I mean, we can’t be responsible for every single person’s actions, and there has been a lot of press on this movement, so I wouldn’t be surprised if other groups or other people show up.”

In Charlotte, police arrested eight anti-abortion rights protesters outside a women’s clinic earlier this month. At the time, police said there were more than 50 protesters – a violation of the limit on gatherings of more than 10 people.

Two anti-abortion rights groups have sued the city over the arrests. The letter from the governor’s office raises questions about those arrests since the Charlotte protesters were outside and were allowed to protest with more than 10 people. 

It’s unclear if they were six feet apart.

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Steve Harrison is a reporter and host at WFAE, covering politics and government. In addition to his on-air stories, Steve hosts theInside Politicspodcast and writes itsweekly newsletter.
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