Arrest made as protesters call for North Carolina businesses to reopen

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A group of demonstrators are outside the General Assembly in downtown Raleigh Tuesday morning calling for businesses to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some are holding signs that say “Reopen NC” while another has a sign that reads “Freedom is not free.”

Another has a sign with “#ReopenNC #Tyranny.”

Raleigh police were on scene – telling the demonstrators they were in violation of the executive order.

Many went to the vehicles where they blared their car horns non-stop. Some began to drive around the block while laying on their car horns.

Around 12:20 p.m., officers used a bullhorn to tell the crowd they risked arrest by being in attendance.

Just after 12:30 p.m., Raleigh officers could be seen leading a woman away in handcuffs.

While being led away, she told CBS 17’s Michael Hyland “These officers are just doing their jobs, I am just doing mine.”

She was later identified as Monica Faith Ussery, 51, who lives just outside Holly Springs.

She faces a charge of violating an executive order.

Monica Faith Ussery (Raleigh/Wake CCBI)

Raleigh police said the scene was cleared just before 1:30 p.m.

Ashley Smith is a cofounder of the private Facebook group #ReopenNC.  She says she and two others created the group after hearing it was possible the governor could extend the stay-at-home order past the end of April. 

“Enough is enough. This has gone on long enough,” she said. 

The group has more than 30,000 members. Many are worried small businesses won’t survive the shutdown. 

“If I have exactly what I want right now, I would ask the governor to get out of North Carolina’s way and let us go back to work,” Smith said.

The demonstration comes a day after Gov. Roy Cooper discussed North Carolina’s future in terms of lifting his executive orders aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus.

Cooper said lifting his executive orders now to combat COVID-19 would be a “catastrophe,” as experts say it would increase the likelihood of hospitals exceeding capacity next month.

The governor made the comments Monday as a social media campaign is underway using the hashtag #ReopenNC, with organizers calling for Cooper to immediately suspend the executive orders.

“We continue to see the spread of the virus accelerate through North Carolina but at a much slower pace because people are following the executive orders on social distancing,” Cooper said. “These models show consistently that our executive orders work and that wholesale lifting of those orders would be a catastrophe.”

RELATED: Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

New restrictions on retailers such as grocery and home improvement stores went into effect Monday evening, requiring them to limit the number of people inside, mark six feet of space at checkout counters and busy areas and to disinfect regularly.

Unemployment claims supposed 500,000 last week in North Carolina with the vast majority of those being connected to the pandemic.

Raleigh police later released a statement about protests:

The goal of the Raleigh Police Department is to help residents remain as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic by reminding them to observe the Wake County Stay-at-Home Proclamation and the Governor’s Executive Orders. In these unprecedented times and unusual circumstances, both the Governor and the County have declared a state of emergency. Under these current and temporary declarations, protesting is not listed as an essential function.

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. 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.

Any questions related to the arrest at the protest at the State Capitol should be directed to the arresting agency, the State Capitol Police.

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