For Immediate Release
Civil Rights Groups Take on City of Graham’s Protest Limitations
Alamance County City With Confederate Monument Violates Free Speech With Restrictive Order
RALEIGH, NC - The city of Graham’s orders preventing groups of two or more people from protesting without police permission violates the First Amendment to the Constitution on rights to free speech and assembly, a coalition of civil rights groups led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Alamance County NAACP said today in a lawsuit and temporary restraining order (here and here). The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
The suit was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina and Lockamy Law Firm on behalf of Alamance NAACP and 8 individuals.
Graham’s decree prevents groups of two or more people from protesting without police permission. On June 25, Mayor Jerry Peterman issued an executive order to shut down protests near a Confederate monument in Graham’s downtown. North Carolina civil rights and advocacy groups also will argue that the order places restrictions on speech in public forums and violates due process.
“The Confederate monument in Graham’s town square represents the racist past and present these protestors want to speak out against,” said Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While the community is trying to reckon with its own racist history in the midst of police violence against Black citizens across the country and in Alamance County, the Sheriff and police are restricting the people’s basic rights to protest white supremacy.”
“Peace and justice should belong to everyone, everywhere and all the time,” said Barrett Brown, president of the Alamance branch of NAACP. “The city’s permit requirement and periodic protest ban violate our most fundamental rights to peacefully assemble and petition our government for redress.”
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“I sought to gather with others to express support for Black lives, advocate for the removal of the monument, and for equally representative government, and I was denied that right.” said Tenae Turner, plaintiff. “It sends a clear message that racist monuments are valued more highly than Black lives and our constitutional rights.”
“This ordinance is a sweeping bar to the rights of people to freely assemble and protest in Graham. People have a constitutional right to gather and voice their concerns in public areas without fear of arrest, harassment, or intimidation from law enforcement,” said Kristi Graunke with the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is appalling that Alamance County officials would trample on the First Amendment rights of their own constituents for the sake of protecting a monument to white supremacy.”
“Any mayor, police chief, or governor who imposes such draconian restrictions on the right to protest should understand that they will be sued,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The ACLU will hold accountable any government actor who violates the First Amendment.”
Combined with the restriction on protests, the city of Graham’s order originally included a curfew, all of which restrict citizen’s freedom of movement, speech and assembly, and are unconstitutional under federal and North Carolina law. The Alamance County Sheriff responded by placing deputies near the site to enforce the order.
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The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law.