GREENSBORO — When police arrested protestors last week at the N.C. General Assembly, the Rev. Nelson Johnson was among them.
It probably won’t be the last time the long-time Greensboro civil rights activist will be arrested for civil disobedience.
It’s certainly not the first.
Johnson figures he has been arrested seven or eight times in acts of civil disobedience. He said the fight is more peaceful now, but the stakes are still high enough to call for old-school tactics.
“We’re going to be doing this every Monday,” he said.
The protests in Raleigh are organized by the N.C. National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People and other groups over Republican policies many liberals say are turning back the clock in North Carolina.
“The basic plan is that there will be an ongoing expression of nonviolent disobedience to draw attention to the legislation that is so hurtful,” Johnson said.
Republican legislators disagree. They won majorities in the state House and Senate in 2010, and promised to peel back decades of over-spending under Democratic Party rule.
During this session, the legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory have lowered unemployment benefit payments and rejected the federally funded expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and elderly.
Legislation to require photo identification at the polls is moving forward. Johnson and others say it amounts to voter suppression, since poor people and senior citizens are less likely to have licenses.
“Taken as a package it is very, very frightening,” Johnson said.
He said the purposeful arrests should serve as a catalyst, drawing attention to fast-moving policy shifts in Raleigh.
Johnson has clashed with the police before. In 1969, he helped lead student protests over an election at Dudley High. One student died in the ensuing clash between police, protestors and the National Guard.
He also helped organize the Nov. 3, 1979, “Death to the Klan” march in the former Morningside Homes community. A heavily armed caravan of Klansmen and Nazis confronted anti-Klan marchers, many of whom were members of the Communist Workers Party. Five anti-Klan marchers were killed.
He was one of 17 protestors arrests last week at the legislature, as was Maria Palmer, a former Jones Elementary School principal and N.C. A&T staffer who lives in Chapel Hill.
Palmer was born in Peru and became a U.S. citizen in the 1980s. After the arrests last week, she was separated from the group at the Wake County jail and went through an immigration check, despite having her drivers license and Social Security card.