The head of the North Carolina NAACP was among more than 30 people arrested Tuesday during a demonstration against Republican lawmakers' refusal to expand Medicaid coverage — the latest in a long string of protests the NAACP and members of the "Moral Monday" movement have waged since the GOP returned to power in 2013.
With zip-ties on their wrists, the Rev. William Barber and 31 other protesters were led away by police as supporters continued protest chants in support of health care for all.
Before Tuesday's arrests, a group comprising doctors, health care workers, clergy and others marched through the hallways and gathered near the offices of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, where other protesters sat outside. Police also arrested some protesters who had entered Brunswick County Republican Sen. Bill Rabon's office.
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Demonstrators wanted the General Assembly to expand health coverage to poor and disabled people. They also protested in support of preserving the federal health care law passed under former President Barack Obama.
"We never come to get arrested," Barber told the media. "But what we do come to do is exercise our constitutional right."
The arrests came after complaints received by officers, General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock said. Those taken into custody will face second-degree trespassing charges, Brock added.
In a statement released before the demonstration, Barber said that a universal health care system is a necessity and that health care should be viewed as a human right.
"If you do not consider the poor up front in your policies, according to our Constitution, you are uncivilized and un-Christian," Barber said Tuesday, attacking Republicans' denial of Medicaid expansion and push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
According to an NAACP handout distributed to gatherers, the expansion would save the state $3.9 billion in federal funds per year and prevent up to 1,145 unnecessary deaths annually.
"This is about facts...and it's about real people," Barber said. "It's not just about numbers. But there's a face on the numbers."
Protesters announced a health care rally for Tuesday evening on the lawn outside of the Legislative Building.
Barber, minister of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, launched the "Moral Monday" movement, a series of nonviolent demonstrations held on Mondays at the Capitol to protest Republican policies on education spending, the environment, the minimum wage and fracking. More than 1,000 people have been arrested in the protests since the movement began.
Earlier this month, Barber announced that he was stepping down after 12 years as the NAACP state leader and would focus on a campaign for poor people, just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had begun to do before he was assassinated.