DURHAM — As the Grim Reaper walked up and down in front of the Hillsborough post office protesting federal taxes Thursday morning, the chief of the Hillsborough Police Department walked up to deliver some bad news.
Without a permit, the reaper and her cohorts would have to stop protesting on the sidewalk, the chief said.
The reaper disagreed, saying it was a violation of her right to free speech. But after a short and mild argument with the chief, she retired to a car parked on the street in front of the post office and stuck her sign out the sunroof.
Robin Staudt, a member of Citizens for a Sound Economy, wore the garb of the grim reaper as she and other members of the group carried a sign that said, “Honk if you believe your taxes are too high.”
Citizens for a Sound Economy was holding similar demonstrations across North Carolina and the country to protest high taxes, said Allen Page, the group’s North Carolina director.
Shortly after they began walking in front of the post office and passing out fliers to people pulling in the parking lot to mail their tax returns, Hillsborough Police Chief Nate Eubanks received a telephone call at the Police Department from someone complaining about the protest.
He drove over to tell the group of three or four protesters that they needed a town permit in order to continue.
Page agreed to walk the two blocks to the Police Department and fill out the application. Eubanks signed it, but it also needed to be signed by Town Manager Eric Peterson, and Peterson had gone to lunch and couldn’t be located.
As Page waited at the Police Department, the other three protesters stood near their cars along East King Street in front of the post office. They said they felt their freedom of speech was being restricted by the need for a permit, but they waited patiently for the document to arrive.
“We’re going to have to comply with their regulations,” said Roy Loflin of Mebane. “What we’re doing, I don’t think we’re violating anybody’s ability to get about. We’re not impeding anybody from going about their activities.”
In Hillsborough, town law requires a permit for all street fairs, festivals, carnivals, parades, marches, rallies, demonstrations and other activities or public events that require the temporary closing or obstruction of all or a portion of any street or other public right-of-way, or that substantially hinder or prevent the normal flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic along any street or other public right-of-way.
That includes the sidewalk in front of the post office, Eubanks said.
Eubanks said he had no problems with the protesters but just wanted them to follow the proper procedure. He personally drove around town looking for the town manager to get him to sign the permit.
“I don’t normally run around and try to do this,” he told the group as he drove by to give them a status report.
The group only planned to protest from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of the Hillsborough post office, and then planned to head to the post office in Raleigh to protest “at least until the 11 o’clock news,” Staudt said.
The permit eventually was signed Thursday afternoon, but by then the protesters had packed up their cars and headed to Raleigh.
Citizens for a Sound Economy has 23,000 members in North Carolina and 250,000 members in the United States, Page said.
On Thursday, the members planned to stage tax protests in 40 different locations in North Carolina, he said. The group favors a flat tax rather than the current tax code.