Citizen | Citizen | Indy Week
Pin It


Planning a protest? Don't even think about it

Sit-ins are an American tradition, going back to the four North Carolina A&T students who took their places at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro 43 years ago and, refused service, politely declined to leave. But what if the Woolworth's manager had seen what was coming and got the cops to arrest the Greensboro 4 before they'd even entered the store, on grounds that they intended to trespass on private property?

Before pondering that one, consider the contemporary case of the six N.C. WARN folks arrested for trespassing, and later convicted by a jury, when they attempted to enter the Raleigh headquarters of CP&L with a complaint. The six, including N.C. WARN executive director Jim Warren, think CP&L's created a potential disaster by storing thousands of used nuclear fuel-rod assemblies in tightly packed water pools at its Shearon Harris power plant. Terrorists destroy the pools and boom, there goes North Carolina, the six fear.

Bottom line, they think there are safer waste-storage methods and want CP&L to use them. CP&L, so far, doesn't.

Thus the six headed for Raleigh one day in January 2001 with the well-publicized intention of confronting William Cavanaugh, corporate CEO, or in the alternative--since the chances of getting face time with Bill C. were slim--maybe taking up residence on the premises.

We say maybe because they never got to the premises. After a made-for-TV rally on the Fayetteville Mall, they were stopped in the lobby of the CP&L building, told to leave, and arrested when they didn't.

Trespassing? A jury thought so, as did two of the three N.C. Court of Appeals judges who reviewed the case. But the third, Judge Edward Greene, dissented, which (because the panel wasn't unanimous) brought the matter to the N.C. Supreme Court last week. One sticking point: CP&L doesn't own the lobby. It doesn't even own the building, though it occupies most of it; the lobby, however, opens onto a sandwich shop and other businesses that serve the public.

For that matter, CP&L is open to the public, too--it's a public utility, after all, meaning its "customers" don't have a lot of choice when it comes to buying electricity--and the record is clear that if you or I want to register a safety complaint, we're welcome during normal business hours.

But they weren't open to Warren et al., who were shown an arbitrary line in the lobby by a security person and told that if they crossed it en route to the elevators, they'd be trespassing. Raleigh cops made good his threat.

Justice Edward Brady, the newest member of the Supreme Court, wondered what would have happened if any of the six had said, "well, I'm not protesting any more, I just want to buy a sandwich." William Hart, arguing the state's case, said he thought that would have been OK. Really?


Lately we've seen federal marshals stop anti-war protestors from entering the Raleigh building that houses John Edwards' U.S. Senate office. They intended to sit-in. In a New York shopping mall, a place of public accommodation, a man was arrested for wearing an anti-war T-shirt. It was "potentially disruptive" to the mall's business, but he refused to remove it. In his case, the charge was quietly dropped, but so what? Being arrested for what you think--not for anything you've done--has that old "chilling effect" on our rights, doesn't it?

The Greensboro 4 weren't arrested. They stayed until the business closed because even in segregation days, neither Woolworth's nor the Greensboro police wanted to stand behind that whites-only policy in court. But perhaps they'd have been willing to stand behind a trespass law, neutral on its face, that allowed Woolworth's to turn away customers suspected of wanting to "disrupt" its business to make a political point.

When the N.C. WARN case went to trial, attention was focused on its e-mail to supporters that said the defendants would offer a "necessity defense"--i.e., they'd trespassed, but their cause justified the minor transgression of the law. The judge, given the e-mail by CP&L beforehand, was in a dither about not letting his courtroom be used for a show trial (his refusal to allow testimony about the safety danger is also an issue before the Supreme Court). He didn't notice that maybe the defendants hadn't trespassed in the first place.

But Judge Greene did notice, and so did several of the Supreme Court justices, notably the very conservative Justice Brady. Because as Brady said, "our decision will be used in 100 counties--we have trespass cases every day."

If the Supreme Court decision suggests that a property owner, though open for business, can decline to admit a customer whose unpopular political views might "disrupt" things or cause others to steer clear, how does that differ from saying we don't serve Muslims, or African Americans, or others whose presence is potentially "disruptive?"

Unpopular views are very unpopular these days, which is exactly when we need the Bill of Rights the most.

Justices, start your First Amendment engines. EndBlock

Send your favorite T-shirt slogans to


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Citizen

  • John Kane's preposterous parking deck proposal

    John Kane's preposterous parking deck proposal

    Tax cuts for Raleigh's rich?
    • Aug 15, 2007
  • Transfer in the House

    Transfer in the House

    The transfer-tax option is signed into law the same week former House Speaker Jim Black goes to prison. Coincidence? No.
    • Aug 8, 2007
  • CACs languish in limbo

    CACs languish in limbo

    Hardy Watkins, longtime head of Raleigh's Community Services Department, is puzzled over why, even as Raleigh's population tripled, "civic activism has declined for some reason."
    • Jul 25, 2007
  • More »

Twitter Activity


Thanks to both of you for your stories. The legend of Kidd Brewer lives on, and so does his hill …

by Bob Geary, INDY Opinion Columnist on Mountaintopping on Kidd's Hill in Raleigh (Citizen)

Hello there...i have a funny story regarding Kidd. He and Frankie and many more football lovers were attending an after …

by bebenjohn on Mountaintopping on Kidd's Hill in Raleigh (Citizen)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

Thanks to both of you for your stories. The legend of Kidd Brewer lives on, and so does his hill …

by Bob Geary, INDY Opinion Columnist on Mountaintopping on Kidd's Hill in Raleigh (Citizen)

Hello there...i have a funny story regarding Kidd. He and Frankie and many more football lovers were attending an after …

by bebenjohn on Mountaintopping on Kidd's Hill in Raleigh (Citizen)

Let me try commenting on this blog...again. My comment from last week has mysteriously disappeared with not explanation from Bob …

by mbrock49 on Greg Poole’s Dix is great. His TIF financing plan isn’t. (Citizen)

Mr. Geary's words fail to depict Mrs. Moye-Stallings and fall far short of the realization of her abilities. Those who …

by DWalrus on Dismissing dismissive language, welcoming disabilities advocacy (Citizen)

The city hasn't responded to "urgent needs" from parts of the city, Southeast Raleigh in particular, for decades. Instead, they've …

by ncwebguy on John Kane's preposterous parking deck proposal (Citizen)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation