RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A civil rights leader said Tuesday that he won't stop raising his voice for the poor, uninsured and downtrodden, although his trespassing conviction for a demonstration five years ago at North Carolina's Legislative Building was allowed to stand.
The Rev. William Barber II of Goldsboro, president of the national Repairers of the Breach group, spoke outside the building where he was arrested in May 2017.
The state Supreme Court refused last week to hear Barber’s appeal after the Court of Appeals in December upheld his misdemeanor conviction for second-degree trespassing following a jury trial in 2019. His attorneys told the justices that the case merited review in part because it involved legal principles related to the First Amendment.
“I wear this conviction as a badge of honor," Barber said at a news conference, knowing that in the “grand span of history, the truth will be told and the truth will be known.”
As head of the North Carolina NAACP at the time, Barber was leading a call-and-response chant with dozens of people protesting the General Assembly's failure to expand Medicaid to more poor adults.
The Legislative Building rules prohibit noise from reaching levels that impair conversations and disrupt the ability of legislators and staff to carry out their duties.
The majority Court of Appeals opinion declared that Barber's free speech rights weren't harmed because he was removed from the General Assembly for the volume of his words, not the content. Barber said people have a right to assemble and bring grievances to legislators.
“I’m neither perfect nor always right, but as a gospel preacher and a bishop of the church, I’m supposed to preach in season and out of season,” Barber said in prepared remarks Tuesday.
Barber received a suspended one-day sentence, unsupervised probation, a $200 fine and 24 hours of community service.