On Wednesday, House Bill 40, Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder, was approved by the Senate Rules committee. During the “public comment” portion of the committee’s meeting, a left-wing organization called “Emancipate NC” warned one of the lead sponsors of the bill, Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, that his group would hold him accountable for sponsoring the bill.

After the committee meeting, Willingham said that he felt like the comments directed at him were intended to be threatening.

Kerwin Pittman in committee

Kerwin Pittman, a self-proclaimed “Social Justice Activist,” said the following during the Rules committee while looking at Willingham, who is the only Democrat sponsor of the bill:

“My message is to any Dems who want to sign on to this type of legislation: Make no mistake—we’ve organized from one end of the state to the other, and you will be held accountable for sponsoring, as well as supporting, this type of legislation that distinctly targets marginalized communities.”

The Committee chairman gave Willingham the opportunity to respond. You can have “as long as you’d like,” said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick.

Kerwin Pittman, Emancipate NC and Cooper appointee, speaks to the Senate Rules Committee in opposition to House Bill 40, Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder, on March 8, 2023. Source: Alex Baltzegar, Carolina Journal

“The reaction to this bill is really not justified,” Willingham said. “The intention of this bill is to prohibit people from destroying property, breaking the law, and then not being prosecuted.”

Willingham said he had spoken directly with Pittman before and told him his stance on the issue comes from his personal experience.

“My experience tells me that this is the right bill, at the right time,” Willingham continued. “My background is one in law enforcement. I’ve been part of demonstrations, but I’ve also been that person in uniform that’s been spit on, hit with bottles, sticks, and anything else.”

Willingham served as a police officer in Washington, D.C., during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“My intention is not to discourage people from demonstrating… but hopefully, this [bill] will discourage some of those folks who come out for the wrong reasons,” Willingham said. “I don’t buy the idea that this is racial. The law applies to everybody, not only to the demonstrators but also to the police officers.”

Willingham is one of four primary sponsors of the bill, along with three Republicans, including Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

“If you think this was done in reaction to what’s happened with Black Lives Matter or any other organization, then I will tell you that you are wrong,” Willingham said. “If you are going to demonstrate…and something happens out there that shouldn’t, then you are not going to be arrested if you were not part of it.”

Emancipate NC, the organization that Pittman represents, believes that “Prison is state-sponsored violence,” and that “We are all complicit in its harms,” according to their website.

The website also says that “Pittman sits on the State Re-Entry Council Collaborative, and the Racial Equity Task Force To Combat Structural Racism in the Criminal Justice System, both of which were created led by North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper.”

Willingham said these kinds of threats do not deter him. The Senate Rules committee approved the bill, and it will now go to the Senate floor for a vote.