March to Alamance polls ends with police using pepper-spray on protesters, children

BY ZACHERY EANES AND

CARLI BROSSEAUOCTOBER 31, 2020 02:27 PM, UPDATED OCTOBER 31, 2020 09:24 PM

Play VideoDuration 3:39March to the polls event mired by pepper-spray and arrestsA rally and march to the polls in Graham, N.C. on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020 was cut short after pepper-spray was used multiple times in the presence of children and elderly citizens. Several people were arrested. BY JULIA WALLGRAHAM

Alamance County sheriff’s deputies and Graham police pepper-sprayed people — including a 5-year-old girl and other children — who were participating in the “I Am Change” march to the polls on Saturday afternoon.

A racially diverse group of about 200 people walked with a police escort from Wayman’s Chapel AME Church to Court Square, where they held a rally encouraging people to vote. The event was organized by Rev. Greg Drumwright, a Burlington native who leads the the Citadel Church in Greensboro, according to his website.

At least three politicians participated in some parts of the event: the current mayor of Burlington, Ian Baltutis; Democratic candidate for county commissioner Dreama Caldwell; and Democratic school board candidate Seneca Rodgers.TOP ARTICLESInmate dies by suicide in Wake jail, sheriff says, raising mental health concernsRaleigh elementary school that just reopened Monday reports its first COVID-19 caseNC residents will be protected from pandemic-related evictions, governor saysNamed one of the country’s best new restaurants, this Durham dumpling shop is expandingCoronavirus cases rise by more than 2,200 cases in NC as hospitalizations drop00:13/00:30SKIP AD

At one point, the marchers held a moment of silence in the street in honor of George Floyd, the Black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this summer.

After the moment of silence concluded, law enforcement told people to clear the road.

Today’s top headlines

Sign up for the Afternoon Update and get the day’s biggest stories in your inbox.SIGN UP

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Then, deputies and police officers used pepper spray on the crowd and began arresting people. Several children in the crowd were affected by the pepper spray.

Melanie Mitchell said her 5-year-old and 11-year-old daughters were pepper-sprayed just after the moment of silence.

She said Graham police approached the crowd assembled in the street and told them to move onto the sidewalk and soon began spraying pepper spray toward the ground. Mitchell’s 5-year-old took off running, she said. Both kids threw up.

“My 11-year-old was terrified,” Mitchell said. “She doesn’t want to come down to Graham anymore.”

The crowd then moved to the courthouse where speeches were being given. But before the speeches concluded, Alamance County sheriff’s deputies began dismantling the sound system and telling the crowd to disperse.

All-access digital subscription

Connect to local news for just $4.99 a month for 12 months.VIEW OFFERPlay VideoDuration 0:51Protesters in Graham, NC pepper-sprayed by policeAlamance County Sheriff deputies pepper spray protesters at the I Am Change march in front of the Alamance County Courthouse in Graham, N.C. Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Several arrests were made. BY CARLI BROSSEAU

GEORGE FLOYD’S NIECE WAS TO SPEAK

George Floyd’s niece was slated to speak at the event, but the speeches were disrupted before she got a chance at the microphone.

Deputies and officers again used pepper spray to force people off the courthouse property.

Veronica Holman said her 3-year-old great-nephew also threw up after being pepper-sprayed. They had been sitting on a brick wall across the street from the courthouse, she said. “They didn’t warn us or anything,” she said. “We were just sitting on the wall.”Play VideoDuration 0:49Journalist arrested in Graham, NC at protestTomas Murawski, a reporter for The Alamance News, was arrested while covering the I Am Change March in Graham, N.C. on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. BY JULIA WALL

Another video posted on social media showed a woman in a motorized wheelchair reacting to pepper spray that was released about 10 feet from her.

At least 12 people were arrested. About 20 police officers and sheriff’s deputies stood guard outside the county jail following the arrests; about 100 marchers gathered on a grass strip outside, with officers stationed on both sides of the crowd.

Drumwright was among those arrested, along with many activists associated with the group People for Change, which has organized frequent demonstrations in Court Square this summer. Also arrested were Caldwell’s campaign manager and Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski.

Tom Boney Jr., the publisher of the newspaper, said Murawksi was taking photos on the street when he was arrested.

“When I spoke to him on the street, while he was in police custody, he said they ordered them to move out of the road way,” Boney said in an interview with the N&O. “He was doing so, while still taking photos, but apparently not fast enough for (the police).”

Murawski was charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer, Boney said, adding that the reporter was being accused of pulling away from an officer. The reporter, however, was adamant he was not resisting the officer, Boney said. A video of the incident shows no sign that the reporter was resisting.

POLICE DEFEND USE OF PEPPER SPRAY

In a statement released Saturday evening, Graham police said Drumwright and the marchers hadn’t followed proper procedures for holding the event. The department said that it warned the group that it would not be allowed to close the road, said Lt. Daniel Sisk, a spokesman for the Graham police.

The department defended its use of pepper spraying, by saying, “[T]he assembly reached a level of conduct that led to the rally being deemed unsafe and unlawful by unified command.”

The protests did not appear to disrupt the last day of early voting in the city, according to the State Board of Elections. “We’re still gathering information but it appears that voting has continued and hasn’t been interrupted,” Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, told The News & Observer.

But many who were marching may not have reached the polls.

Faith Cook was one of the few marchers to make it to the polling place on Elm Street.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” Cook told The News & Observer. “Nobody should have to.

“I think it was their intention, from the moment this march was announced, that we don’t get to the polls in numbers.”

Quenclyn Ellison, president of Alamance Alliance 4 Justice who helped organize the march, questioned why the marchers were met with pepper spay.

“Why were we tear-gassed on the day we were going to the polls? Voter intimidation?” Ellison said. “We’ve been out here doing this for several weeks, and we were peaceful. How do we get treated with such great threat?”Play VideoDuration 0:26Officers swarm man at Graham, NC marchLaw enforcement officers swarm and tackle a man at a march in Graham, N.C. Saturday afternoon, Oct. 31, 2020. The marchers were participating in the “I Am Change” rally organized by a Greensboro church leader. BY CHIP THRASHER

‘NON-PARTISAN MARCH’

The “I Am Change” march was billed in part as a get-out-the-vote initiative as well as a demonstration against police violence.

“This is a non-partisan march,” Drumwright said earlier this week, according to the Burlington Times-News. “This march is encouraging people to go to the polls and vote for change.”

Scott Huffman, who is challenging Republican Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina’s 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, condemned the actions of law enforcement on Saturday. In the video, he said he was affected by the pepper spray that was deployed.

“They should not be doing this to fellow Americans. Black lives matter,” he said in a video posted on Twitter. “All lives won’t matter until we stop this, and I mean it. I urge my Republican opponent Ted Budd to finally stand up to this white supremacist, stand up to these neo-Nazis, and stand for America, not those people. This is wrong. This is wrong. I’m just watching what’s happening right now and it’s wrong.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said on Twitter that he went to the courthouse in Graham after hearing about the day’s events. “All eligible voters in North Carolina have a constitutional right to cast their vote safely and securely, without threats or intimidation,” Stein wrote on Twitter. Through a spokeswoman, Stein declined to speak with The News & Observer Saturday night.

Gov. Roy Cooper also used Twitter to comment on the events in Graham. Like Stein, he declined an interview through a spokesman. “This incident is unacceptable,” Cooper wrote on Twitter. “Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated.”

After his release from jail Saturday evening, Drumwright said the arrests would not discourage activists. “Today has actually only emboldened us,” he said in a speech streamed on Facebook. Drumwright said he and other organizers were released on the condition that they not return to Graham for 72 hours.

Drumwright and his supporters plan to hold a news conference in Burlington on Sunday afternoon.Play VideoDuration 0:47Graham police officer grabs N&O photojournalist’s cameraA Graham police officer grabbed the lens of N&O photojournalist Julia Wall to push her back while dispersing a crowd during a protest at the Alamance County courthouse on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. BY JULIA WALL

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice laid out nine ways in which Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and his deputies violated people’s constitutional rights in the county, through “a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing.”

The DOJ, under the Obama administration, filed a lawsuit over the accusations, but a Republican-appointed federal judge threw out the suit. The DOJ appealed, then agreed to drop its legal threats in exchange for Johnson agreeing to actions including “bias-free policing” training for his deputies.

Johnson since been re-elected sheriff twice, in 2014 and 2018. Both times, no one ran against him.

His office did not respond to requests for information on Saturday’s events.

Alamance and other counties in the Triad region include several key districts that Democrats are trying to flip, in hopes of ending Republicans’ control of the state legislature. Some of the biggest political fundraising in all of North Carolina has occurred in Alamance, a News & Observer analysis found earlier this year.

Graham Police Department Statement on 10-31-2020 by Zachery Eanes on Scribdhttps://www.scribd.com/embeds/482385582/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-j0CMtpVnwsbK3HSlRhIU

News & Observer politics reporter Will Doran contributed to this article.

RELATED STORIES FROM RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER

LOCAL

Protesters in Graham, NC pepper-sprayed by police

OCTOBER 31, 2020 1:53 PM

LOCAL

Officers swarm man at Graham, NC march

OCTOBER 31, 2020 7:49 PM

LOCAL

Graham police officer grabs N&O photojournalist’s camera

OCTOBER 31, 2020 7:50 PM

LOCAL

Journalist arrested in Graham, NC at protest

OCTOBER 31, 2020 5:13 PM


true
In this image taken from video, Alamance County sheriff’s deputies use pepper spray on a crowd of protesters at the courthouse in Graham, N.C. on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. CARLI BROSSEAU CBROSSEAU@NEWSOBSERVER.COM
  COMMENTS  
https://www.facebook.com/v3.2/plugins/comments.php?app_id=&channel=https%3A%2F%2Fstaticxx.facebook.com%2Fx%2Fconnect%2Fxd_arbiter%2F%3Fversion%3D46%23cb%3Df34f2d5410a3c1%26domain%3Dwww.newsobserver.com%26origin%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.newsobserver.com%252Ff334e39cb0f950c%26relation%3Dparent.parent&container_width=728&height=100&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.newsobserver.com%2Fnews%2Flocal%2Farticle246861942.html&locale=en_US&numposts=10&sdk=joey&version=v3.2&width=

READ NEXT

Coronavirus live updates: Here’s what to know in North Carolina on Nov. 1

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus live updates: Here’s what to know in North Carolina on Nov. 1

BY BAILEY ALDRIDGENOVEMBER 01, 2020 09:56 AM

More than 2,800 COVID-19 cases were reported Saturday in North Carolina, down from a record high on Thursday. The state also reported 46 deaths Saturday.KEEP READING 

TRENDING STORIES

March to Alamance polls ends with police using pepper-spray on protesters, children

UPDATED OCTOBER 31, 2020 09:24 PM

UNC-Chapel Hill campus returns to normal after report of armed suspect prompts lockdown

UPDATED OCTOBER 30, 2020 03:07 PM

Walter Wallace Jr. protest in Raleigh canceled, so the mayor cancels the curfew

UPDATED OCTOBER 31, 2020 10:39 AM

Coronavirus live updates: Here’s what to know in North Carolina on Oct. 31

UPDATED OCTOBER 31, 2020 01:16 PM

Protesters in Graham, NC pepper-sprayed by police

UPDATED OCTOBER 31, 2020 09:24 PM

All-access digital subscription
#ReadLocal

Connect to local news for just $4.99 a month for 12 months.VIEW OFFER

Coronavirus live updates: Here’s what to know in North Carolina on Oct. 31

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus live updates: Here’s what to know in North Carolina on Oct. 31

UPDATED OCTOBER 31, 2020 01:16 PM

Plagued by crime, an East Raleigh bar gets its alcohol license taken by the state

LOCAL

Plagued by crime, an East Raleigh bar gets its alcohol license taken by the state

OCTOBER 31, 2020 1:40 PM

Police say they arrested the woman who shot a man to death in West Raleigh late Friday

LOCAL

Police say they arrested the woman who shot a man to death in West Raleigh late Friday

OCTOBER 31, 2020 12:29 PM

Electronics manufacturer picks Durham for 150 jobs after getting incentives from NC

BUSINESS

Electronics manufacturer picks Durham for 150 jobs after getting incentives from NC

OCTOBER 31, 2020 11:26 AM

NC pastor ‘expressed grief and horror’ after police said he peed on plane passenger

LOCAL

NC pastor ‘expressed grief and horror’ after police said he peed on plane passenger

OCTOBER 31, 2020 9:10 AM

Take Us With You

Real-time updates and all local stories you want right in the palm of your hand.

Icon for mobile apps

RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER APP VIEW NEWSLETTERS 

SUBSCRIPTIONS

Start a SubscriptionCustomer ServiceeEditionVacation HoldPay Your Bill

LEARN MORE

About UsContact UsNewslettersNews in EducationTriangletoday.comLegal NoticesArchives

ADVERTISING

Advertise With UsAbout Our AdsPlace a ClassifiedCOPYRIGHTCOMMENTING POLICYREPORT NEWSPRIVACY POLICYTERMS OF USE

We use cookies and similar technologies. By continuing to use this website, you consent to our Terms of Service and our Privacy Policy.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial
error

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

RSS
Follow by Email
LinkedIn
LinkedIn
Share
Scroll to Top