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Crowds gather at North Carolina Capitol to protest stay-at-home order

Several states preparing to reopen their economies
Several states preparing to reopen their econ... 04:53

People in North Carolina have gathered around the state's Capitol in Raleigh to protest Governor Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order. Protesters, disobeying social distancing guidelines, marched around the governor's mansion holding signs that read "let us work," and waving American flags.

The protest on Tuesday was organized by ReOpenNC, whose first protest last week drew hundreds of people into the streets of Raleigh, CBS affiliate WNCN-TV reports. A Facebook group for ReOpenNC, which describes itself as "peaceful action group," was created on April 7, about one week after Cooper's stay-at-home order went into effect on March 30. 

ReOpenNC co-founder Ashley Smith told WNCN that she believes "North Carolinians are extremely intelligent and could handle this given the chance without sacrificing their entire livelihood." 

Virus Outbreak North Carolina
People with ReopenNC demonstrate in Raleigh, N.C., as they press Governor Roy Cooper to allow businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 outbreak on April 21, 2020. Gerry Broome/AP

North Carolina had its deadliest day from the coronavirus on Tuesday, WNCN reports. State health officials announced 34 new deaths, bringing the state's total deaths attributed to COVID-19 to 213.

Raleigh police responded to last week's protests in person, and on Twitter, where they informed residents that protesters were "in violation of the Governor's Executive Order and have been asked to leave." When asked on Twitter what part of the governor's order the protesters were in violation of, the police responded: "Protesting is a non-essential activity."

Police arrested one woman during the protest last week after she refused to disperse. ReOpenNC subsequently sought legal protection from arrest, so long as they abide by social distancing guidelines.

Anthony Biller, the attorney representing the group, sent a letter to the governor and Greg Ford, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, on Saturday seeking clarification that protests fall under essential services, and are therefore not prohibited forms of mass gatherings, The News & Observer reported.

"We are writing to request that your offices immediately issue clarification guidelines that your various quarantine orders do not prohibit and should not be construed to prohibit political protests," Biller wrote. "In the parlance of your orders, the exercise of such fundamental rights are 'essential activities.' Unfortunately, these broad order have created a reasonable apprehension the exercise of such fundamental right will lead to detention, arrest and criminal prosecution."

In response, the governor's general counsel said the executive order does not ban outdoor protests, but that police have the right to interfere when social distancing is not being followed, WNCN reports.

"Reports from your clients' protest of April 14, 2020, show that the six-food Social Distancing Requirement identified above was not maintained by many participants," wrote William McKinney, general counsel for Cooper, in a letter to Biller. 

"By doing so, they endangered themselves, their families, their friends, and others with whom they came into contact," McKinney wrote. "When the six-foot Social Distancing Requirement is not followed, law enforcement may intervene to enforce the order, and thereby protect both the public and the protesters themselves."

The Observer reports that ReOpenNC members plan to hold a protest every Tuesday until the executive order is relaxed.

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