- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Raleigh Police Department is defending a controversial tweet that declared “protesting is a nonessential activity” after a demonstrator was arrested during a “Reopen North Carolina” event amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Police on Monday dispersed a group of people protesting outside the General Assembly amid Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order, which prohibits residents from leaving their homes except for “essential activities” and bans gatherings of more than 10 people.

Demonstrators demanded the reopening of businesses in North Carolina and held signs that read, “Reopen NC,” “Freedom is not free,” and “#ReopenNC #Tyranny,” WNCN reported.

At 12:29 p.m., Raleigh police’s official Twitter account tweeted, “The protesters are in violation of the Governor’s Executive Order and have been asked to leave. #ReopenNC.”

A short time later, Raleigh officers were seen leading a woman away in handcuffs, WNCN reported.

“The police officers are just doing their job and I’m just doing mine,” the woman told WNCN as she was being led away.

Monica Faith Ussery, 51, was arrested by State Capitol Police and charged with violating an executive order, the station reported.

After her arrest, Raleigh police tweeted, “Protesting is a non-essential activity.”

The tweet sparked a flurry of backlash and thousands of responses from First Amendment advocates, but the department is standing firm. In a statement Tuesday, the department said “protesting is not listed as an essential function” under the current state of emergency.

“The Wake County District Attorney is the individual who decides charging language for failure to adhere to the Governor’s Orders and the Wake County Proclamation, when charging is appropriate, and what charges individuals may face for violating either one of these orders,” the statement read. “However, as a law enforcement agency, the Raleigh Police Department is bound to carry out the regulations stipulated in the Executive Order and the Wake County Proclamation.

“But more important is the health and wellness of all who live in our community, including the officers who must engage in circumstances such as these. We simply want everyone to be safe during this very serious public health crisis,” the statement read.

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