Raleigh Police Department: 'Protesting Is a Non-Essential Activity'

The government has broad emergency powers, but that doesn't mean the Constitution is suspended.


In response to a protest calling for North Carolina's economy to reopen yesterday, the Raleigh Police Department arrested at least one person for violating the state's stay-at-home orders.

But wait, don't you have a constitutional right to assemble? Not so fast, says the Raleigh Police Department:

This blithe assertion that fundamental First Amendment activities are "non-essential" did not go over well, to put it mildly.

"Enforcement of emergency orders should not exacerbate racial disparities and should not lead to custodial arrest unless doing so is the last resort, because arresting people and sending them to jail is antithetical to public health," Kristie Graunke, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, says. "The goal of enforcement should be to facilitate long-term compliance rather than to punish non-compliance."

"Even under emergency orders, the First Amendment right to protected speech, including protest speech, remain in effect," Graunke continues. "But government officials may temporarily limit in-person gatherings in circumstances where medical and scientific experts agree that assemblies of people pose an immediate and grave risk to public health. Any public health measure limiting civil liberties must be re-evaluated when the medical and scientific consensus changes."

Shea Denning, a criminal law expert at the University of North Carolina School of Government, told the Raleigh News & Observer that normal constitutional rights can indeed be overridden in a state of emergency, but that power isn't absolute:

"I think what people might be thinking about is, 'Well, don't I still have constitutional rights? And can a state statute take away my rights?'" Denning said.

The answer, she said, is yes to both: A state of emergency doesn't completely take people's rights away, but it does let the government do things that might otherwise infringe on people's rights.

Government officials cross the line when they impose restrictions that are overly broad or discriminatory. For example, the town of Greenville, Mississippi, has been attempting to shut down drive-in church services, despite the fact that the church-goers are in their cars and socially distanced. One church filed a federal civil rights lawsuit contesting the order. The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case, writing that the facts "suggest that the city singled out churches for distinctive treatment."

And as Reason's Jacob Sullum detailed, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order earlier this month against the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, who had tried to ban drive-in Easter services. 

The Raleigh Police Department released a statement yesterday, after being thoroughly yelled at on Twitter, reiterating its stance. "We simply want everyone to be safe during this very serious public health crisis," the statement read.

"In these unprecedented times and unusual circumstances, both the Governor and the County have declared a state of emergency," the statement said. "Under these current and temporary declarations, protesting is not listed as an essential function."

The department said it is "having ongoing conversations with Wake County officials and the Wake County District Attorney's Office on the scope and enforcement" of stay-at-home orders.

Gathering in crowds right now is not a good idea. It's a stupid and potentially deadly one. But governors, mayors, and police claiming that protected First Amendment activities are now verboten should give every civil libertarian the heebie-jeebies. If local and state governments insist on using their broad emergency powers to enforce nonsensical, involuntary orders—like Michigan's restrictive orders or Pennsylvania's impressively dumb attempts to close liquor stores—it will only breed resentment, and the very type of civil disobedience they're trying to tamp down.

In fact, four Michigan sheriffs just announced they're refusing to enforce some of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home orders.

NEXT: Michigan's Emergency Stay-at-Home Order Is a Hot Mess. Now 4 Sheriffs Say They Won't Be Enforcing Parts of It.

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  1. >Pick up that can, citizen!

    1. “If you see this so-called Free Man, report him. Civic deeds do not go unrewarded. And contrariwise, complicity with his cause will not go unpunished. Be wise. Be safe. Be aware.” -Dr. Breen, head of the Raleigh Police Department (probably)

  2. This is only going to get worse. While some states are loosening restrictions (California, who would have thought?), Others are ramping them up and extending them. Gov. Little in Idaho just extended theirs for another 15 days. I am expecting Gov. Bullock to do the same next week.

  3. >>Gathering in crowds right now is not a good idea. It’s a stupid and potentially deadly one.

    Scoldie Hawn. you could have done the heebie-jeebies sentence w/o the first part.

    1. For every 80 people dead from this virus, there are about 1920 sick and 998,000 people JUST FINE…Well, just fine except their rights to assemble, practice religion, and protest their government have been taken away buy the government.

      But yeah, for the sake of those 80 dead, “Gathering in crowds right now is not a good idea. It’s a stupid and potentially deadly one.”

      1. not to mention, those 80 dead are mostly old people with complications who would have died in a year or so anyway. No one wants to be the cold-hearted bastard who says it, but at some point folks are gonna have to accept the reality that we can’t do this twice year, yearly.

        1. It’s not cold hearted because anyone who says it is also at risk.

    2. Gathering in crowds right now is not a good idea. It’s a stupid and potentially deadly one.

      What if they stand six feet apart? What if they wear masks? Is it still stupid and deadly?

      1. Gathering in crowds right now is not a good idea. It’s a stupid and potentially deadly one.
        Well if it’s a crowd of elderly people in wheelchairs pulling oxygen tanks. But you could say the same thing during any flu season.

    3. We need a cure for the panicdemic.

  4. Biggest FYTW of 2020.

    1. Biggest FYTW of the third millennium to date.

  5. “We simply want everyone to be safe during this very serious public health crisis,”

    So explain how closing inside of the six foot “safe” distance and dragging them out of their isolated car and shoving them into a holding cell makes them safer!

    Less bullshit, please.

  6. Assuring that Trump will again win in NC. Amazing job the dems are doing imploding their electoral chances.

    Not that I mind, I clearly do not want dementia patient and sex abuser Joe Biden with his finger on the button.

    1. His stinky finger.

      1. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww
        [pause for breath]

    2. Well Tara Reade says he had his finger on her button.

      1. WHAT?
        Who is this “Tara Reade” of which you speak?
        And what does she have to do with Our Next President?


    3. The chances of there being an election in November grow dimmer by the day.

      1. Well, according to the dems here in WI, it’s definitely for the greater good to push that election back, for months if needed.

  7. If the government says you don’t need a gun, then you need a gun.

    If the government says protesting is non essential, then protesting is essential.

    1. Thousands of protestors are the Michigan capital should do that. Favorite quotes from today were protestors saying it was their first protest ever because they used to have jobs and didnt have time before to protest.

  8. It’s not as if protesting has much of an effect anymore.

    As far as I’m concerned, protesting has always been about showing quite clearly that there is a mob of people outside your door who will break it down and SKIN YOU if you continue to damage their rights.

    Nowadays nobody cares but the press, and politicians will often infiltrate and use these protests to their advantage, regardless of what they’re for or against. I don’t think the right should be removed, obviously, but now is a good time to reflect on what a protest is really supposed to be about: a threat of real and tangible violence that should make our “elected” leaders think twice.

    1. “It’s not as if protesting has much of an effect anymore.”

      Disagree. Ask the Virginia Lobby Day participants if they think their protest didn’t have much of an effect. Northam still signed a few bad bills, but nothing like the outright bans they were contemplating.

      1. And now that I actually read your complete post, the Lobby Day protests were exactly the threat of real and tangible violence that made people think twice. Something like 20,000 peaceable, but very armed, people came to protest those laws. Left the place cleaner than they found it.

        If it wasn’t the largest peaceful armed protest in US history, it’s right up there.

    2. a protest is really supposed to be about: a threat of real and tangible violence

      Oh good heavens no. A protest is a statement of mass solidarity with a cause. That is constitutionally protected. What you are describing is a lynch mob.

      1. Can you link which of your comments on your sock was so embarrassing you went back to Jeff?

        1. That sentence was incoherent.

    3. “now is a good time to reflect on what a protest is really supposed to be about: a threat of real and tangible violence that should make our “elected” leaders think twice.”

      Correct, jackass

  9. Either the cops didn’t stop to think about phrasing, or they did and posted that anyway.

    They *could* have said “this is a rare exception to the right of peaceable assembly, applicable only in an unusual public-health emergency like this one.” Correct or not, this would have at least been phrased in the least provocative way possible.

    The phrasing they used, I certainly hope, was simply thoughtless. But the cops have such authoritarian tendencies, even in non-emergencies, that maybe they intended the dictatorial implications of their words.

  10. The cop walks up to you and says, “You’re within six feet of me. You’re under arrest.”

    1. …and if you walk away to maintain social distance, it’s suspicious and dangerous.

      If you’re wearing a mask, you’ve violating the anti-Klan law.

      If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re endangering the public health.

      I hope this didn’t give any policeman a cop-rection.

      1. If you’re Black and wearing a mask…then you’re Black and wearing a mask!

      2. Walking away from a cop can get you charged with obstructing official business or resisting arrest.

        1. or shot in the back.


  11. “Suspend the Constitution”? C.J., you’re just so adorable.

    When did any government official or LEO stop and think, “We have fundamental legal concepts that provide the foundation for our laws and policies, so I’d better watch what I say or do so I don’t violate the essential liberties of people, as defined in the Constitution.”

    More like, “What the fuck is the Constitution, and if you say that word again I will shoot you and your dog.”

    1. “I will shoot you and your dog”

      But not necessarily in that order

  12. OT: Let the shit hit the fan: Sources believe coronavirus originated in Wuhan lab as part of China’s efforts to compete with US:

    It’s Fox News. Not some neckbeard with bad skin posting from a basement. They cite multiple sources, governmental and science community, who claim the bug came out of a lab.

    This is a really big fucking deal.

    1. Anonymous unnamed sources. Huh.

      1. Dude, don’t ever change.

        For everyone else who can actually think at this discussion board, why hasn’t someone with the gravitas of a Fox News run a story like this before? I mean, the evidence has been out there since around January. Might it be that governmental sources who normally wouldn’t even state on deep background that China is behind this, and ‘oh, we kept the receipts’, is now singing a different tune?

        I guarantee that China will take this kind of report a lot more seriously than dismissing it as anonymous named sources and that’s it.

        1. To be fair, I’m skeptical of “anonymous unnamed sources” when it comes to any big story.

          I might be a tad cynical.

          1. It’s not cynicism, it is basic Media Literacy 101.

            1. Yet you supported them through impeachment and with the Steele document. Weird.

              1. Huh, you’re just making shit up. Weird.

                1. Wait chem….you did support the impeachment process and you were just fine with using anonymous accusers to advance it. Don’t run from your past posts. You own that.

                  1. There is a difference between the words “…you supported them through impeachment” and “you did support the impeachment process”. It’s sort of like the difference between “Do me a favor” and “Do me a favor, though”. Being able to discern those differences is critical if you wish to be considered a serious commenter and not a doofus. Additionally, A statutorily protected “whistleblower” is considerably different from an “anonymous accuser”. I’m afraid chem appears to be correct and if you cannot assert facts that logically disprove him, he owns you, not the other way around. Refute this, if you can. Repair this if you seek honesty. But bother not with mere retort.

                2. You can’t run from your mistakes forever, I’M FASTER THAN YOU DAD.

            2. Black Mives Latter

        2. the gravitas of a Fox News


          Fox News is Trump’s propaganda arm.

          1. And you use Vox.

          2. And even so, Trump occasionally rants against them.

      2. Anonymous sources are only bad if they are saying something bad about Dear Leader Trump.

    2. It’s the SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS that climate change, deforestation, the endangered pangolin trade and dirty yellow people committing carnivorous abominations caused all this.

      1. It’s the substitution of knowledge for models that’s driving the credibility of science in to the shitter.

        They had near perfect lab conditions with the cruise ship (as good as they’re gonna get in the midst of things anyways), and yet they decided to dismiss the actual knowledge gained from it, and substitute it with a model that said “OVER 2 MILLION AMERICANS WILL DIE IF WE DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL TO TEMPORARILY CHANGE BEHAVIOR” and ran with that.

        Same thing with Climate Change. They’ve allowed models with uncertain data overshadow knowledge.

    3. I have believed this since the beginning because the way the Chinese government reacted to the outbreak only made sense if they didn’t want people looking to closely at how it started. The massive cover-up and ‘disappearance’ of health professionals didn’t occur during any of their other outbreaks.

  13. Hope folks remember in November how Democratic politicians in positions of authority immediately leap to police state tactics at the least provocation.

    1. Democrats like Mike Dewine?

  14. If the North Carolina protesters wanted the police to leave them alone they should’ve desecrated a war memorial.

  15. Very useful science content, I hope all who are here visit my score prediction blog whether it’s good or still needs improvement. Thank you

  16. I think CJs assertion that being a in crowd outdoors begs the question. I don’t think that has been established or even close to it. That’s the problem. All these obsessing od death rates or testing people but no clear understanding of the actual risks of transmission. A bunch of wild ass guesses apparently is sufficient factual predicate for state to take away your most fundamental rights? Then you dont have any.

    1. Yes.

      Models filled up with uncertain data has overtaken the application of actual knowledge, and the state is just fine with that because it allows them to live out their Sim City fantasies.

    2. For example, look at Arizona. We have a ton of old people who came down during Fall. During February, we get an influx of people from all across the country. Those people then hang out in crowds together watching baseball.

      This should be the nightmare scenario, yet Arizona remains relatively untouched. (Then again, it’s 80 degrees here! Who’s worried about catching a cold? GO OUTSIDE!)

  17. Well, that was some full-throated defense first amendment liberties of the ACLU offered, wasn’t it? The Raleigh Police Department declares that constitutionally protected political protest is “nonessential activity,“ and how does the ACLU respond? By objecting to “racial disparities,” as if racially balanced deprivations of civil liberties are constitutionally acceptable.

    And what is this nonsense about constitutional liberties being acceptably curtailed if “medical and scientific experts agree?” Since when did “medical and scientific experts” become arbiters of constitutional law? I thought that a constitutionally guaranteed right could be curtailed only when necessary to serve an overriding government interest, and when the restriction in question was the least restrictive means of serving that government interest. Thus, prohibiting gatherings is not constitutionally acceptable if alternative, less restrictive means such as maintaining 6 feet of distance and wearing masks or other personal protective equipment are available.

  18. No person under any circumstances has a right to initiate force against another.

  19. So I guess protesting the edict that protesting is a non-essential activity is out of the question.

  20. The answer, she said, is yes to both: A state of emergency doesn’t completely take people’s rights away, but it does let the government do things that might otherwise infringe on people’s rights.

    Do people not know what constitutional rights are? The presidents and governors who declare emergencies to invoke special powers are the very same presidents and governors to whom the Bill of Rights limit.

  21. “Gathering in crowds right now is not a good idea. It’s a stupid and potentially deadly one.”

    Because we think it is stupid, and we can damn sure make it deadly.

    1. The people have come to the decision that the Raleigh police department is non-essential.

  22. Gathering in crowds might not be a good idea but letting totalitarian oafs and thugs get away with stomping on our Constitutional rights is an even more stupid and potentially deadly one in the long term. Better to stop this now before it gets worse.

    1. “Shea Denning, a criminal law expert at the University of North Carolina School of Government, told the Raleigh News & Observer that normal constitutional rights can indeed be overridden in a state of emergency . . .” There is NO Health Exemption in the Constitution. If a state can violate the Constitution for ANY reason, the Constitution is a dead letter. Let’s give it a proper burial.

    2. I totally agree. It is one thing to recommend this or that. It is another to kill thousands of jobs just because the tyrannical dictates of state governors. That violates the 5th Amendment. If government is effectively seizing businesses than it needs to reimburse the owners!

  23. “As the interned American citizens of Japanese descent learned, the Bill of Rights provided them with little protection when it was needed.” ~ Glenn Harlan Reynolds No Treason The Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner I. The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. [This essay was written in 1869.] And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. and the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but “the people” THEN existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves. Let us see. Its language is: We, the people of the United States (that is, the people THEN EXISTING in the United States), in order to form a more perfect union, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves AND OUR POSTERITY, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. It is plain, in the first place, that this language, AS AN AGREEMENT, purports to be only what it at most really was, viz., a contract between the people then existing; and, of necessity, binding, as a contract, only upon those then existing. In the second place, the language neither expresses nor implies that they had any right or power, to bind their “posterity” to live under it. It does not say that their “posterity” will, shall, or must live under it. It only says, in effect, that their hopes and motives in adopting it were that it might prove useful to their posterity, as well as to themselves, by promoting their union, safety, tranquility, liberty, etc.

  24. “Shea Denning, a criminal law expert at the University of North Carolina School of Government, told the Raleigh News & Observer that normal constitutional rights can indeed be overridden in a state of emergency . . .” There is NO Health Exemption in the Constitution. If a state can violate the Constitution for ANY reason, the Constitution is a dead letter. Let’s give it a proper burial.

  25. It’s not that you don’t have the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Instead, it’s that the other patrons have a right not to lose their lives in a stampede. It is the duty of the courts to weigh and balance these rights when they conflict. No single dictum should ever be allowed to facilitate the deaths of thousands of us, no matter how much you personally miss the Yankees.

  26. The initiation of violence is a non-essential political paradigm. Coercive govt. is not useful sometimes, benign sometimes, and tyranny sometimes. By what principle would it be? Rights always exist, from birth to death, not by edict of self-authorized tyrants. But when the majority authorize tyranny and call it “freedom” they do so for themselves, not the voluntarists. I have exercised my sovereignty within an unfree world for 77 years. No political consensus can/will change that. Ayn Rand said in the ’60s, “Rule by consensus is the new fascism.” I disagree. It has always been around and always will be until enough people mature politically and start self-governing, rejecting violence in favor of reason, rights, choice.

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