Cooper’s handling of protests criticized by ReOpen NC as inconsistent

Two sets of protests seemingly get two sets of rules, support

Gov. Roy Cooper briefs media at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via NC Dept of Public Safety

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper’s handling of violence arising from protests across the state in the wake of the death of George Floyd contrasted with the treatment given to the ReOpen NC protests since April.

Raleigh suffered several intentionally set fires between Fayetteville Street and Moore Square on May 30 and 31.

Saturday, there were several businesses that were broken into, with rioters looting and setting a fire in the CVS located near Hargett Street and Fayetteville Street.

WRAL reporter Keely Arthur said that on Saturday night, “Almost every window down on Fayetteville Street is broken.” Another reporter tweeted a video and that firefighters were responding to fire at the Dollar General Express” and there was “smoke billowing from inside.” By the end of the first night of riots in Raleigh, police had formed a line around the Capitol building and many of the monuments on the grounds had been vandalized.

It wasn’t until 12:29 a.m. on Sunday that Cooper was heard from, issuing a single tweet.

Fifteen minutes later, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore called on Cooper to send in the National Guard to stop the destruction, but the state would not hear from the governor until 4 p.m. on Sunday after he had apparently met with social justice several groups responsible for the protests in Raleigh. Those groups included Carolina Peace Center led by Faisal Khan and Living Ultra-Violet, a group led by Conrad James with a focus on marijuana legalization. Also included was Young Americans Protest (YAP), led by former Raleigh mayoral candidate Zainab Baloch, UNC sophomore “youth organizer” Greear Webb and Woody Wisz, an organizer with ties to the NC Young Democrats.

“Violence is not part of the peaceful protests, but it is part of the movement. There may be necessary incidents that help drive the mission forward,” Webb said in an interview after the first night of riots in Raleigh.

During his press conference, Cooper said the killing of George Floyd was “unjust” and said the protests were centered around “systemic racism.” Unlike briefings following ReOpen NC protests, Cooper did not make a single mention of COVID-19, social distancing, or wearing of masks.

Cooper also did not admonish the rioters, as he had ReOpen NC, saying that “I fear the cry of the people is being drowned out by the noise of riots.”

“Let me be clear about one thing: People are more important than property. Black Lives do Matter,” said Cooper.

At the end of the briefing, N.C. Dept. of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks announced that Cooper was activating 450 National Guard troops.

“If you’re a tattoo artist trying to reopen your business, you’ll be arrested in front of a TV camera as a ‘show of force.’ But if you burn that tattoo parlor to the ground, you’ll face no consequence,” said N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) in a statement following the second night of rioting.

“If you’re a group of 11 worshipers looking to pray inside your chapel, the governor will go to federal court to stop you,” Berger said. “But if you’re a group of 100 rioters, the governor will make empty gestures about ‘encouraging’ local officials hours before you return with baseball bats to wreak havoc all over again.”

On Monday, June 1, Cooper emerged shortly before a citywide 8 p.m. curfew and took an approximately 200-foot stroll outside the executive mansion alongside George Floyd protesters. With a face mask dangling from one ear, Cooper walked briskly from one gate of the mansion to another, waving and not answering questions yelled at him.

ReOpen NC, which has almost 80,000 members on Facebook, noted irony in Cooper’s walk with the protesters. While their group was peacefully protesting, several members were arrested for stepping onto the sidewalk at the executive mansion Cooper himself recently walked along with the assembled protesters.

ReOpen NC had protested in front of the executive mansion for six weeks in a row from mid-April through Memorial Day. During the protests, members had repeatedly used bullhorns to ask Cooper to come out and talk to them. He never did.

Unlike the Floyd protests, ReOpen NC protests never turned violent. The movement was criticized in some of the daily COVID-19 briefings held by Cooper and N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen as worrisome and “misguided.”

A 51-year-old woman was arrested for “violating an executive order” at the first ReOpen NC protest held April 14. The Raleigh Police Department was asked what part of the order was violated and the department replied in a tweet that “protesting is a non-essential activity.”

The tweet above was deleted on June 23 by the Raleigh Police Department.

Attorneys for both ReOpen NC and the protester responded to the arrest by serving Cooper an Intent to Sue letter. The letter demanded that the governor clarify executive order 121, which failed to address First Amendment rights such as protests and demonstrations. The attorney for the protester also demanded the charges be dropped since the state had violated her civil rights by arresting her.

William C. McKinney, the governor’s general counsel, responded on April 20 and said that Cooper’s executive orders “provide room for outdoor protests to continue.”  McKinney also wrote that “protests can continue as long as demonstrators observe the 6-foot social distancing requirement. That strikes us as reasonable and prudent.” No such restrictions appeared to have been placed on Floyd protesters.

Throughout April and early May, Cooper extended executive orders designed to keep close-contact businesses closed. Shop owners, barbers, tattoo parlor owners and restaurant owners across the state who attempted to open were met with citations, fines and even arrests. According to Cooper, these businesses were endangering public health, but no such condemnation has come for the protests that turned riots across the state.

Cooper called the reopening of an Alamance County racetrack “dangerous and reckless,” even though Ace Speedway had gotten permission from county officials. When asked directly about the speedway drawing large crowds, Cooper said that “all of the options are on the table for us and we are examining those options now,” but did not say what type of penalties or enforcement measures would be handed down. No action was taken against the speedway by Cooper.

There have been more than 50 arrests of protesters across North Carolina since Saturday. Protesters have repeatedly violated curfews in multiple cities.  The governor has not referenced any potential penalties or enforcement measures from the state.

About A.P. Dillon 225 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_