Civil rights groups decry law enforcement assault on peaceful protesters in Alamance County

Advocates liken actions of law enforcement officers to Bull Connor and George Wallace

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, a peaceful, “March to the Polls” demonstration in Alamance County turned ugly on Saturday when law enforcement officers used pepper spray on protesters.

The official explanation from the officers was that protesters were to be allowed a set time to kneel in the roadway of 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that a Minnesota police officer knelt on the late George Floyd’s neck.

As reported, however, the officers moved to disperse the crowd just a few seconds after that time had expired (something many of the demonstrators were unaware would be happening) and soon thereafter started using pepper spray on the group, which included children.

In response to the incident, civil rights groups issued statements forcefully condemning what they saw as utterly unprovoked law enforcement misconduct.

This is from the ACLU of North Carolina:

Police Violence Disrupts March to Polls in Alamance County

GRAHAM, N.C. – On the last day of early voting in North Carolina, police deployed chemical agents on peaceful protesters as they assembled near Alamance County Courthouse. Multiple news reports note that children were present and affected by the chemical agents. The event, led by Reverend Gregory Drumwright, planned to lead voters on a march to the polls on the last day of early voting was disrupted by police intervention, violence, and arrests. The courthouse, and a Confederate monument that stands on its grounds, has been a popular place for people to gather, protest, and speak out in recent months, largely protesting white supremacy and demanding justice for people killed by police.

“Police violence against peaceful protesters is unacceptable,” said Chantal Stevens, executive director for the ACLU of North Carolina, after learning of the acts of police violence on Saturday, October 31, 2020. “It is hard to see the police’s actions as anything other than an act of voter intimidation. North Carolinians know what this is. There’s a long shameful history of voter suppression in our state, specifically when it comes to Black voters. Yesterday’s police violence is the latest entry into that archive, and North Carolinians deserve better. We need to find a way to close the book on voter suppression and police violence if we are to start a new chapter in our story that recognizes the importance of protecting everyone’s right to vote.”

The ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Lockamy Law Firm originally filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Alamance NAACP and 8 individuals in early July, after people were denied the right to protest near the Confederate monument. In August, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction, disallowing county officials from prohibiting protests near the courthouse and monument.

And this is from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Responds to Graham, NC Assault on Peaceful Voting Rights March

Washington, DC — On Saturday, October 31, 2020, community leaders in Graham, North Carolina led the: “I am Change: March to the Polls.” During the march, peaceful demonstrators, including children, were assaulted by Alamance County Sheriff’s deputies. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organization that had been working with community leaders and activists in the lead up to Saturday’s march, including efforts to coordinate with law enforcement to ensure the safety and security of demonstrators, issued the following statements in response to the assault:

“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 for Civil Rights Under Law. 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. Alamance County Sheriff’s deputies, in complicity with officials from the City of Graham, pepper sprayed peaceful demonstrators, including children, who were participating in a march to the polls. 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.”

Reverend Greg Drumright of the The Citadel Church, in Greensboro, NC stated: “North Carolina has led the nation in voter suppression since 2012. Officials from our state wrote the playbook on what happened on Saturday. 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.”

We condemn these actions by Alamance Sheriff’s Office and Graham Police which caused so much harm to Black people and others peacefully marching. This was a grotesque replay of the same police-orchestrated voter intimidation efforts that plagued this nation decades ago,” said Elizabeth Haddix, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law who was present during the march.

Earlier this year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed suit against officials in Graham, North Carolina for interfering with the First Amendment rights of protesters, securing a settlement announced in October 2020.

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