Raleigh Police Investigating Armed Protest Group

Raleigh, North Carolina police chief Cassandra Deck-Brown says her department is investigating a small group of armed protestors who gathered in the city’s downtown area over the weekend, and could bring criminal charges against the group for protesting while armed.

State law prohibits possessing a weapon while participating in or watching a protest, but nothing bars people from walking on a city sidewalk displaying firearms, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said in a statement released by the Police Department on Monday night.

The Police Department contacted a person who described an encounter with a demonstrator on social media, according to the police chief. She did not name the person, who she said did not want to pursue the matter. But video of his encounter captured by multiple media outlets has been reviewed, she said.

It’s unclear what encounter Deck-Brown is referring to, but the dozen or so members of the protest group Blue Igloo livestreamed their walk through downtown, including a visit to a Subway restaurant.

Once inside the Subway, the person filming the walk asks the employees for permission to order and eat inside.

“You guys cool with us being in here?” the man asks. “We don’t want to make it look like we’re threatening or intimidating anyone. That’s why we ask.”

The employee asked them to eat outside the shop. Several protesters ate their sandwiches inside.

“I ain’t hungry, but I appreciate you guys being open,” the person holding the camera says before exiting.

Under North Carolina’s executive order, restaurants are not allowed to have dine-in seating and can only serve food for takeout or curbside to-go orders.

They left and continued walking through downtown around the Capitol, the Legislature and the Executive Mansion.

They came upon a man dressed in a Batman costume holding a sign that said, “Guns killed my parents.” The group invited the man to join, and he declined. The group continued on after that.

As a Second Amendment advocate, I don’t think the Blue Igloo march was particularly useful or helpful to the cause (particularly the guy strolling around with a pipe wrench for some reason), but that doesn’t mean that it’s illegal either. You don’t have to like what someone says or does in order to support their freedom of assembly, speech, and right to keep and bear arms. In fact, if you only support free speech and protests that you agree with, you really don’t support free speech at all.

Deck-Brown should be cautious about bringing any kind of charges for protesting while armed as well, because I don’t think the North Carolina statute would survive a court challenge. In fact, there’s been at least one case in North Carolina where charges against an armed protestor were dismissed by a judge.

In 2017, a Durham man was arrested and charged for carrying a semi-automatic rifle to a Ku Klux Klan counterprotest, The Herald-Sun previously reported. A judge eventually dismissed the charge after his attorney argued the law was overly broad and infringed on his First and Second Amendments right to assemble and to bear arms.

It looks like in that case, the state didn’t appeal the dismissal, so the state Supreme Court didn’t weigh in on the statute. Any arrests of armed protestors in Raleigh will almost certainly lead to another court challenge, and likely the same outcome as the 2017 case. Instead of fighting an iffy legal battle, Deck-Brown and other city leaders should try to engage the protestors in conversation, not confrontation. That probably won’t end the protests, but it will likely defuse some of the tension.