Agreement reached on protests at North Carolina courthouse

North Carolina

(WGHP photo)

BURLINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Civil rights groups have settled a dispute with a North Carolina sheriff’s office over courthouse protests against a Confederate monument.

The settlement guarantees that the grounds of the old Alamance County Courthouse must remain open to the public to exercise their First Amendment rights, requires the sheriff’s office to acknowledge that swear words are protected speech even if they’re directed at law enforcement officers, and also requires sheriff’s employees to undergo racial bias training.

If the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office had followed the U.S. Constitution, the settlement would not have been needed in the first place, said Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in a statement.

The settlement, disclosed on Wednesday, clears up several legal questions that arose during racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd, the Times-News of Burlington reported.

The plaintiffs sued on July 2 after local demonstrators, including Alamance NAACP Chapter President Barrett Brown, felt they were being prevented from exercising their right to assemble and protest.

Brown describes the settlement order as a safeguard for future protests. “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,” Brown said.

The settlement says demonstrators can use of the courthouse’s North, East, South and West steps, as well as the surrounding lawns and other public spaces. It clarifies that “indecent” words are protected under the First Amendment, an issue that arose after officers arrested several people for using language they deemed too vulgar. And it requires racial bias training in the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

In March, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of the Confederate monument, where protests have intensified following Floyd’s death.

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