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Judge rules in favor of activists’ right to protest in front of N.C. courthouse

Alamance County monument
Alamance County monument(AP)
Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 8:13 PM EDT
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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - United States District Court Judge Catherine Eagles entered a consent order and judgment Wednesday to allow activists to protest in front of the Alamance County courthouse in North Carolina, the lawyers for the plaintiffs announced.

Members of the Alamance County NAACP and eight individual plaintiffs filed suit in summer 2020 after Alamance County reportedly banned protest near a confederate monument located in front of the historic county courthouse in response to increased demonstrations against racism.

Judge Eagles had previously issued preliminary orders at plaintiffs’ request which found the plaintiffs were likely to be successful in the case. These preliminary orders in plaintiffs’ favor led to the settlement discussions between the parties.

“The Alamance NAACP branch and many others in our community are ready for a new day, one where we don’t have to see that monument in the middle of our public square celebrating white supremacy from the Jim Crow era. This settlement means we shouldn’t have to fear being arrested for protesting that monument or any government policy or practice on the courthouse grounds,” Barrett Brown, president of the Alamance NAACP, said.

The settlement agreement requires the sheriff’s office to allow protestors access to the historic courthouse grounds where the confederate monument is located, and may not restrict that access unless necessary on a short-term basis due to an emergency situation.

“We are happy to have negotiated this settlement agreement for racial justice demonstrators who were denied their First Amendment rights by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, but if law enforcement officials had followed the U.S. Constitution this settlement would not have been needed in the first place. What those protesters experienced, just for pointing out that a confederate monument on public grounds is racist, is the sort of unacceptable policing that inspires much of the resentment and suspicion the Black community has towards some in law enforcement today.” Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said.

The settlement also requires the sheriff’s office to agree that protestors’ use of “swear” or “indecent” words which do not meet the legal definition of “fighting words” is protected under the First Amendment and is not lawful grounds for arrest, even when such language is directed at law enforcement officers.

Finally, it requires county officials, including all members of the Board of County Commissioners and all sworn Alamance County Sheriff’s Office personnel, to participate in an educational training on implicit racial bias and racial equity.

“Throughout history, people exercising their constitutional rights to protest and assemble are often the catalysts for change. We are proud to support the people protesting in Alamance County seeking to dismantle white supremacy, calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, and standing up against powerful actors, including law enforcement, who sought to deny people their First Amendment rights,” Kristi Graunke, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said.

This settlement resolves plaintiffs’ claims against the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office and county officials, and because it is entered as a consent order, remains under the court’s jurisdiction for enforcement should that be necessary.

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