Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, arrested at least one person early Tuesday afternoon for participating in a protest, and threatened fellow protesters with arrest, saying the people were violating the governor's executive order against gatherings.
Later Tuesday, the department's response to social media outcry about the protest included a tweet that said, "Protesting is a non-essential activity."
Photographs and footage of the event show protesters standing several feet apart from one another on sidewalks and in parking lots, holding signs with messages that included "Freedom is Not Free" and "Reopen NC." Some protesters remained with or in their cars in a parking lot, honking their horns in protest.
Footage also shows two police officers standing in the middle of a street, one using a bullhorn to address the protesters.
"By gathering here, you are in violation of the executive order, okay," the officer told the crowd. "This large gathering is also a public health violation, okay. So at this point, I'm going to ask you all to disperse ... If you all leave, no harm, no foul ... If you do not disperse, you will be subject to a physical arrest and taken to Wake County Jail."
"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," the Raleigh Police Department said in a statement released Tuesday. "Under these current and temporary declarations, protesting is not listed as an essential function."