Schewel joins ranks arrested at Raleigh protest

Jun. 12, 2013 @ 08:03 PM

City Councilman Steve Schewel on Wednesday joined a growing list of local elected officials who’ve been arrested at the ongoing protests in Raleigh that target the N.C. General Assembly.

He was detained along with seven other people outside the N.C. Senate chamber, and accused of committing three misdemeanors. The chief of the General Assembly’s in-house police force, Jeff Weaver, said the charges were violation of building rules, failure to disperse on command and trespassing.

Schewel had joined an extension of the “Moral Monday” protests organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. He had warned at least two of his council colleagues that he might engage in civil disobedience.

“The Republicans [who control both chambers of the General Assembly] have seized control of the levers of power through the gerrymander,” Schewel said after being released Wednesday. “And they’re doing a lot of things which I think are destructive.”

The arrest was but the latest of a local elected official.

Previously, Durham school board member Leigh Bordley, Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, Chapel Hill Town Councilwoman Donna Bell and Carrboro aldermen Michelle Johnson, Damon Seils and Sammy Slade all were arrested on similar charges during one of the weekly protests.

Schewel said Wednesday’s group of eight detainees included two officials from elsewhere in the state, namely Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman and Rocky Mount City Councilman Andre Knight.

Durham council colleagues supported Schewel’s decision to participate.

“Proud of him,” Mayor Bill Bell said when apprised of the arrest. “I appreciate him putting himself in that position.”

“Steve is following his conscience and I always support people who do that,” added Councilman Eugene Brown, who said the council may adopt a resolution backing the protests.

Schewel said he opted to join the protest out of disagreement with the way GOP majorities in the General Assembly are handling Medicaid, unemployment aid, school funding, firearms control and relations with local governments.

The last of those is a live issue in Durham because a pending bill would force the city to supply water and sewer service to the controversial 751 South development.

But Schewel faulted legislators for acting to take control of Asheville’s water system and Charlotte’s airport away from those city governments.

Brown said the best thing state legislators can do this year is adjourn. “The sooner they get the hell out of town, the better,” he said.

The protests have become widely followed events on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Word of Schewel’s arrest circulated quickly in those quarters on Wednesday.

“Steve’s only been here 43½ years,” Chapel Hill Town Council Ed Harrison quipped in response to a posting on Facebook of a photo of Schewel being handcuffed. “Must be an outside agitator.”

Harrison was alluding to recent comments by two GOP stalwarts, Gov. Pat McCrory and state Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, who attributed the protests to the influence of out-of-state interests.

Goolsby, in a published newspaper column, compared the protests to a circus “complete with clowns, a carnival barker and a sideshow.” He said they would be more properly dubbed “Moron Monday” and argued that the GOP is merely trying to correct Democratic Party polices that were “bankrupting North Carolina.”

The quarrel reflects a historical ambivalence about whether North Carolina should identify more closely with the North or the South in the country’s economic, political and cultural debates.

Democrats these days largely look to high-wealth northern states for political inspiration; the GOP mostly looks to other southern states that historically struggle with poverty.

Schewel’s comment alluded to another source of protestor angst, the fact that Republicans have lopsided majorities in both chambers despite only taking about 51 percent of the statewide vote for House and Senate seats in 2012.

Analysts have chalked up the discrepancy to new district lines approved late in 2011 that heavily favored GOP candidates.

A former Chapel Hill town councilman who was arrested at last week’s protest, Jim Protzman, has argued the new districts are so one-sided as to undermine the legitimacy of state government.

“They cheated,” he said, arguing the GOP legislators who approved the new lines “rigged our elections” and have created a General Assembly that does “not represent the people of North Carolina.”

Chilton after his arrest said legislators appear uninterested in dialogue. The protestors, he argued, are legally seeking “a redress of our grievances [on] issues of critical concern to the people of North Carolina.”

Bordley couldn’t be reached for comment.