Civil Rights Leader Rev. William Barber Finally, Uh, Brought To Justice
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Reverend William Barber was convicted of trespassing Thursday, bringing to an end an epic legal saga that hardly anybody knew was happening. The civil rights leader was found guilty on a second-degree misdemeanor for leading a protest inside the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017. Surely now that he's got a criminal record he'll think twice before daring to lead a protest or do any of that civil disobedience stuff.

The Charlotte News & Observernotes the jury returned a guilty verdict in just 22 minutes, following a three-day trial in which the prosecution emphasized Barber had broken rules inside the General Assembly building, while Barber's defense unsuccessfully kept blabbing on about some First Amendment rights the reverend thinks he has to make noise in a public building.

Luckily for Barber, Judge Stephan Futrell wasn't exactly of a mind to send Barber away to the Big House for his crime.

"It's hard to find too much reason to punish," he said, "and in this case I'm not inclined to do so."

Barber received a one-day sentence, suspended, 12 months of unsupervised probation, a $200 fine and 24 hours of community service.

"He could do that in his sleep," the judge said.

Barber's attorney, John McWilliam, noted that "Martin Luther King, Jr. had a criminal record, too" and added Barber wasn't likely to stop calling for economic justice -- as he has since he led the Moral Monday protests at the state capitol, starting in 2013. "I don't think he knows how to do anything else," said McWilliam. But why would anyone ever break the law like a common Trump administration appointee?

Barber testified that he organized a sit-in at the General Assembly after its Republican leaders repeatedly refused to meet with him. He told jurors, "I was there because the Constitution gives you the right."

"My motivation was believing that the Constitution of North Carolina says that everything you do in government should be done for the good of the whole," Barber said, "... that I have the right to instruct the General Assembly at the legislature."

Barber said he and the roughly 50 other protesters wanted to let legislators know their concerns over the legislature's refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, as if people deserve healthcare or have the right to talk to legislators about it. While Barber said the protest was justified since legislators refused to meet with him, Assistant District Attorney Nishma Patel kept insisting that "free speech" was not at issue in the case, only the violation of the law. And here is why we love Rev. William Barber:

Patel: "Your voice was quite loud, wasn't it?"

Barber: "I don't know your characterization of loud."

Patel: "It was loud."

Barber: "It was my preaching voice."

Patel told the jury that the "entire trial has been about enforcing the law as it's written and should have nothing to do with the defendant's beliefs," which was apparently good enough since they returned that quick verdict.

Barber, for his part, says he plans to appeal, since the jury was "boxed in" and prevented from considering the Constitutional issues in the case.

"This is much bigger than me," he said after the trial. "This is literally about opening up Southern legislatures to the light of day and to the people's voice and to the people's protests."

Well hold on, that doesn't sound at all like he's agreeing to knock off the protesting. Next time, you just see if the judge doesn't give Barber 48 hours of community service.

Considering it's North Carolina, however, we also won't be surprised if the state legislature decides to impose 5 years hard labor for second-degree trespassing, just to keep the dangerous rabble-rouser in check.

[Guardian / News & Observer]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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