Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Monday night against the Alamance County sheriff and the Graham police chief aimed at protecting marchers in Graham today. Law enforcement officers pepper sprayed demonstrators who were participating in a march to the polls Saturday.
The ACLU of North Carolina and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed the lawsuit in federal court seeking a temporary restraining order on behalf of the Rev. Gregory Drumwright, who led Saturday’s march, a Graham resident, and the racial justice organization Justice For the Next Generation.
Drumwright plans another March in Graham today.
“Law enforcement officers in Graham violently interfered with voters’ march to the polls on Saturday and suppressed a peaceful and lawful assembly,” Chantal Stevens, ACLU North Carolina executive director said in a statement.
During Saturday’s march, law enforcement deployed pepper spray after demonstrators had stopped for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time that a former Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
At a press conference Sunday, police Lt. Daniel Sisk said law enforcement sprayed pepper foggers because demonstrators were blocking the road. There was no road closure authorized, he said, but there was an agreement allowing demonstrators to pause for less than nine minutes.
“After about nine minutes, we told them they needed to clear the road,” Sisk said.”When they had no intention to clear the road, we sprayed a couple of sprays on the ground.”
At a news conference Sunday, Drumwright said law enforcement was intent on creating a hazard while marchers were having a peaceful rally.
“What did we do that would warrant the use of excessive force or the use of pepper spray or tear gas?” he said.
The lawsuit says Sheriff’s deputies pepper sprayed a five-year-old and an 11-year-old, who vomited after being sprayed. A 3-year-old affected by the pepper spray vomited, the lawsuit says.
In a story published this morning in Raleigh’s News & Observer, a pair of national experts on policing demonstrations condemned the actions of law enforcement officers as excessive.
One of those experts — John Noakes, professor of sociology, anthropology and criminal justice at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania — described the use of pepper spray on a group that included children and seniors “stunning” and said it “flies in the face of best practices.”
Click here to read the complaint in the lawsuit.