In Graham, hundreds of protesters demand removal of Confederate statue, sheriff’s resignation

Photo: Anton L. Delgado

Approximately 700 demonstrators wearing masks, waving flags and carrying signs returned to the Confederate monument in Alamance County during a “March for Justice & Community” on Saturday.

This was the first demonstration at the statue since a controversial protest ban — issued by the Graham City Council and enforced with the help of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office — was lifted by a federal judge.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched down a 1.5-mile route that took them from Burlington to Graham, where they were met by counter-protesters.

Protesters called for removal of the Confederate statue, as well as the resignation of Sheriff Terry Johnson and the end to police brutality.

Justice 4 the Next Generation, Alamance Alliance for Justice and Alamance Agents for Change co-hosted the march, which featured a keynote address from the Rev. Greg Drumwright, a Burlington native and social justice activist.

“Everywhere Black people go, we are guilty,” Drumwright said. “It is time for this Confederate statue and all Confederate statues to come down, so we no longer feel guilty in our own homes.”

A series of speakers took to a stage temporarily set up in front of the Alamance County Historic Courthouse, to address a range of issues including the importance of voting, the symbolism of the statue, systemic racism in the education system and the continued struggle against police brutality.

The speakers competed with chants from a group of about 25 counter-protesters waving Confederate memorabilia and Trump 2020 flags.

Police formed a barrier between protesters, who were part of social justice groups, and counterprotesters, some of whom belonged to Neo-Confederate groups. (Photo: Anton L. Delgado)

Members of Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, a neo-Confederate group, could be heard shouting “all lives matter,” “get out of our city” and “the statue’s never coming down.”

Law enforcement officers from several departments, including Burlington, Graham, Mebane, Gibsonville, Elon University, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, State Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Office, were at the protest.

Officers blocked adjacent streets, safeguarded public property — including the statue — and acted as a barrier between the two groups.

Johnson’s arrival at the protest was greeted with chants of “hey hey, ho ho, Sheriff Johnson’s got to go” by protesters and “one more term” by counter-protesters.

Wearing a bulletproof vest, Johnson spoke with both sides and encouraged members of the two groups to disperse after the end of the march’s official programming — roughly three hours after the protest began at noon.

The sheriff declined to comment on the calls for his resignation.

There was no violence during the protest, but at least one male Black Lives Matter activist was taken away in handcuffs by officers from the Gibsonville Police Department.

While this was the first protest in front of the Confederate statue since the lifting of the protest ban, it wasn’t the first protest of the week.

Protesters called for the resignation of Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson (center) because of his racist actions and statements. In 2012, the US Department of Justice found that the sheriff’s department, under Johnson’s command, engaged in racial profiling of Latinx people. (Photo: Anton L. Delgado)

On Thursday, Kennedy Boston, a sophomore at Elon University who was at Saturday’s march, co-organized a sit-in by the Sheriff’s Office — a five-minute walk from the statue.

On Friday, Graham Mayor Jerry Peterman declared an indefinite state of emergency for the city’s downtown area, which is where the Confederate monument is located. During the march, protesters were still able to walk just short of the statue, which was protected by a police blockade.

“With two protests in one week, I hope something changes,” Boston said. “I know Terry Johnson isn’t probably going to retire anytime soon and he’s not going to change his viewpoint in one week, but I hope seeing the movement will at least affect Graham in some way and maybe lead to the Confederate statue coming down.”

The NC News Intern Corps is a program of the NC Local News Workshop, funded by the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund and housed at Elon University’s School of Communications.

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