Nov 01, 2020
A minister in Alamance County, North Carolina on Monday said he and other voting rights advocates intend to return to the streets on Election Day, three days after police pepper sprayed a gathering of 200 marchers in Graham, N.C. as they held a Get Out the Vote rally.
"We will not stand by idly as law enforcement abuses their power to intimidate or silence Black voters."
--Kristen Clarke, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Rev. Greg Drumwright led the march in Graham on Saturday after receiving permission from the Graham Police Department to hold a peaceful rally including a march from Wayman Chapel AME Church to Court Square, where a Confederate monument stands.
Drumwright led the attendees, who included four members of George Floyd's family, in a period of silence lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds to represent the time a Minneapolis police officer pressed his weight on Floyd's neck earlier this year, killing him. According to the Durham Herald-Sun, Graham police and Alamance County sheriff's deputies waited a little over 15 seconds after the vigil ended before they began pepper-spraying the crowd and ordering them to disperse.
\u201cShortly afterward, Graham police told the crowd that they had to get out of the street and began using pepper spray to get people to move faster. Children as young as 3 began coughing and throwing up. 4/\u201d— Carli Brosseau (@Carli Brosseau) 1604180960
\u201cHere's some additional footage from the Graham, NC March to the Polls where police pepper sprayed multiple participants\u2014including young children &, as seen here, members of the Voter Protection Legal Team. This was sent to me by a member of that team who was subsequently arrested\u201d— Anne Helen Petersen (@Anne Helen Petersen) 1604200413
Some of the deputies began dismantling the group's audio equipment and pepper sprayed several people, including a 56-year-old woman with asthma, when the marchers intervened. Some of the children in attendance became physically ill from the effects of the spray.
"I guess this is how we do 'voting' in Alamance County, North Carolina," tweeted one attendee, Elon University professor Megan Squire, in an account of the march and the police officers' violent response.
\u201cMy hair still smells like spray. They hit folks in wheelchairs, little kids. I guess this is how we do \u201cvoting\u201d in Alamance County North Carolina.\u201d— Megan Squire (@Megan Squire) 1604169432
The Alamance County Sheriff's Office drew angry responses on social media when it issued a vague statement saying the rally had "ended due to concerns for the safety of all."
"And by that you mean that you made people feel less safe by physically assaulting them," replied Yale health policy professor Howard Forman.
\u201c@SheriffAlamance Because your cops were putting everyone in danger. \n\nDon\u2019t think we don\u2019t remember this, just this summer: https://t.co/Q8nDuOgBf7 \n\nOr this: https://t.co/Y8fS0MKXqs\u201d— Alamance County Sheriff's Office (@Alamance County Sheriff's Office) 1604173746
The police claimed they sprayed only at the ground to urge attendees to disperse, but Drumwright posted a video showing that he'd been sprayed directly.
Drumwright was one of more than a dozen people who were arrested at the march. After being detained briefly, Drumwright was released from jail and ordered to stay out of Graham for 72 hours.
\u201cRev. Drumwright was among those arrested, as was Rion Thompson, the campaign manager for Dreama Caldwell, a Democratic candidate for county commissioner. Deputies and police officers dispersed the rest of the crowd with more pepper spray. 10/\u201d— Carli Brosseau (@Carli Brosseau) 1604180960
The minister indicated on social media on Monday, however, that he plans to lead voters to the polls on Tuesday.
\u201cWe're Ready 4 CHANGE March to the Polls - tomorrow, 11/3 @ 8:30am Wayman's Chapel AME church. Further details are forthcoming via all social media this afternoon. ALAMANCE COUNTY rise up and lets celebrate our RIGHT TO VOTE!\u201d— Rev. Greg Drumwright (@Rev. Greg Drumwright) 1604333543
Alamance County and Graham law enforcement officials were in the news earlier this year, when officials announced they would not be issuing protest permits in Graham in July. At the time, the Confederate statue in Court Square was drawing demonstrators amid the racial justice uprising that began in May following Floyd's killing.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of several civil rights groups that sued officials over the ban on protest permits, condemned the police attacks on demonstrators.
"The Bull Connors and George Wallaces of yesterday have been replaced by a posse of all-white law enforcement officials in the Alamance County Sheriff's Office who abused their power to silence and disenfranchise Black people," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee. "The assault on peaceful demonstrators in Graham, North Carolina shocks the conscience and is an astounding display of police violence perpetrated against Black people and other supporters in the final days of the general election... This constitutes interference with our most fundamental civil rights--the right to protest and the right to vote. We will not stand by idly as law enforcement abuses their power to intimidate or silence Black voters."
Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris also denounced the use of "intimidation" to hinder voting rights.
"There is too much at stake and we want to preserve everyone's right to be able to be heard through their vote this election," Harris told reporters on Sunday after learning about the police violence in Graham.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein asked voters who experience intimidation or obstruction as they try to cast their ballots to notify the State Board of Elections.
\u201cUpdate on yesterday's troubling events in Alamance County: \n\nIn our democracy, every American has the right to vote, free from intimidation. I have received reports that some people who intended to vote in Graham yesterday were obstructed and not able to do so. 1/\u201d— Josh Stein (@Josh Stein) 1604256842
\u201cThis is extremely concerning, and we need to get to the bottom of it. Obstructing people from voting is against the law. If anyone was obstructed from voting or intimidated yesterday, please notify the State Board of Elections: https://t.co/TJ6us5AGGH. 2/\u201d— Josh Stein (@Josh Stein) 1604256842
The actions of the Graham Police Department and the Alamance County Sheriff's Office is indicative of the state which "has led the nation in voter suppression since 2012," Drumwright said in a statement.
"Officials from our state wrote the playbook on what happened on Saturday," the minister said. "This was not a coincidence, it was intentional. People of color in rural areas have been disenfranchised in their activism and in their efforts to organize against systemic oppression and police brutality. We plan to stay relentless to get people to the polls in Alamance County. As a national activist, I hope that people will seize this moment to double down on efforts to get people to the polls."
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