On Thursday, Nov. 2, a group of protesters blocked the Durham Freeway (NC-147), the main artery through Durham and a major connector for the Research Triangle area, during rush hour. They held banners against Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas on Israeli civilians and called for a ceasefire.

As the hours ticked by, those stuck in traffic began wondering what was causing the delay, and vented on social media. Carolina Journal opinion editor, David Larson, was one of those stuck in traffic, which added over an hour to his commute from Raleigh home to Hillsborough. Confused by the sirens, helicopters, and blocked roads, he said:

At 7:53 pm, many hours later, the Durham Police Department posted that the protesters had decided, on their own volition, to leave the highway and march downtown. The police statement suggested that the police would close additional streets on behalf of those protesting.

Carolina Journal called and emailed the Durham Police Department and asked them:

  1. How many of those who blocked the freeway during rush hour were arrested?
  2. Who made the decision not to remove them from blocking the flow of traffic?
  3. Did the mayor or any other Durham politician direct the police chief to allow the protest to continue?
  4. Is it the policy of the DPD to allow citizens to block streets without a permit for hours, or was an exception made due to it being a protest?
  5. Will future similar incidents be treated the same way, or will the incident spur a change of policy?

As of publication, there was no response to those specific questions. The chief did send a more-general response:

CJ also reached out to state Sen. Mike Woodard, a Democrat and leading candidate for mayor, but received no answer as of publication.

Reaction from conservative activists and politicians, though, came quickly and showed deep frustration with how rule-of-law was set aside for the left-wing demonstrators.

Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, released a statement blasting the City of Durham’s response:

“Allowing protesters to take over a state highway and block people from picking up their children, going home to their families, or heading to work for hours is an abject failure of the most basic function of government — to provide for law and order. The Cooper administration and the City of Durham’s decision to coddle Hamas sympathizers at the expense of the daily lives and plans of hundreds of law-abiding citizens is a dereliction of their primary duty to North Carolinians.”  

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial primary, also blasted both the protesters and the response:

“These lawless disturbances are unacceptable. When I am governor, we will not tolerate protesters interfering with law-abiding citizens going about their daily lives. The days of coddling lawlessness will be over. I’ll move swiftly to order highway patrol to use any and all resources at their disposal to quickly clear roadways of these extremist displays.”

Update: NC House Speaker Tim Moore also released a statement on the illegal protest:

“I unequivocally condemn the pro-Hamas protests that obstructed traffic during the peak of the rush hour commute for many in the Triangle yesterday. Let me clear– those calling for a “ceasefire” are sympathizing with Hamas when we should all be standing firmly with Israel for the duration of their response to the unprovoked attack by Hamas on October 7th.”

“Rather than exercise law and order, the City of Durham and the Cooper administration allowed protesters to take over a state highway for hours and block citizens from traveling to their destinations. We cannot condone lawlessness that impedes the daily lives of our citizens.”