On Saturday, Police officers used pepper spray to break up a march to a polling place in Graham, North Carolina, a decision that has drawn criticism from the state’s governor and civil rights groups.
The officers’ pepper-sprayed the ground to disperse the crowd in at least two instances. First is when the marchers did not move out of the road following a moment of silence, and again after an officer was “assaulted” and the event deemed “unsafe and unlawful,” the Graham Police Department stated.
However, the event’s organizers and other marchers have said they did nothing to trigger the response, and that they wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights and march to the polls.
“I and our organization, marchers, demonstrators and potential voters left here sunken, sad, traumatized, obstructed and distracted from our intention to lead people all the way to the polls,” Rev.
Gregory Drumwright said in a news conference Sunday.“Let me tell you something: We were beaten, but we will not be broken. ”
According to a flyer for the event, the “I Am Change” march was branded as a “march to the polls” in honor of Black people whose deaths have sparked protests over racial injustice, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin, among others.
Moreover, the flyer shows that Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the families of numerous victims of police brutality, was scheduled to speak along with Brooke Williams, George Floyd’s niece.
In a video published by the Raleigh News & Observer, it showed demonstrators and law enforcement scuffling over sound equipment outside the Alamance County Courthouse.
Alamance County sheriff’s deputies are wearing gray uniforms and soon deployed the pepper spray, and at least one deputy is seen spraying a man in the face.
Graham police said that at least eight people were arrested during the rally on various charges.
In a news conference Sunday, Graham Police Lt. Daniel Sisk said five of those arrested were not residents of Alamance County and one of them was a member of the media.
Drumwright rejected the claim that the police only arrested eight people. “They started arresting people before our rally began,” he said.
Sick said that authorities will investigate and determine whether the use of police force was appropriate according to the department’s policy. A detailed timeline of events will also be released later this week.
The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office said it made arrests at the demonstration, citing “violations of the permit” Drumwright obtained to hold the rally.
“Mr. Drumwright chose not to abide by the agreed-upon rules,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “As a result, after violations of the permit, along with disorderly conduct by participants leading to arrests, the protest was deemed an unlawful assembly, and participants were asked to leave.”