The Alamance County Sheriff’s office cannot prohibit protests at the courthouse Confederate monument, and demonstrators cannot be arrested for swearing at deputies, under a court settlement finalized Tuesday.
The NAACP and demonstrators sued the City of Graham, Alamance County commissioners, and Alamance Sheriff Terry Johnson in federal court last year over limits on protests outside the courthouse and around the Confederate monument. The settlement settles the lawsuit and says demonstrators are allowed in areas that the Sheriff’s Office made off limits last summer.
Graham repealed its ordinance, which strictly limited protests, soon after the lawsuit was filed.
“We are happy to have negotiated this settlement agreement for racial justice demonstrators who were denied their First Amendment rights by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, but if law enforcement officials had followed the U.S. Constitution this settlement would not have been needed in the first place, Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
“What those protesters experienced, just for pointing out that a confederate monument on public grounds is racist, is the sort of unacceptable policing that inspires much of the resentment and suspicion the Black community has towards some in law enforcement today,” Haddix said.
Courthouse protests increased last summer after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Johnson’s office prohibited protests on the courthouse steps, the surrounding sidewalk, or around the monument from June into August. Protesters were arrested or threatened with arrest for standing on the courthouse steps or surrounding sidewalk.
The consent order follows a preliminary injunction entered last August.
Under the settlement, the county cannot prohibit demonstrations around the courthouse and the monument. The county can set policies for use of those areas, but they must be content and viewpoint neutral. The county’s facility use policy will detail where and when permits are required.
Johnson also agreed that swearing at law enforcement officers is not grounds for arrest.
“We are proud to support the people protesting in Alamance County seeking to dismantle white supremacy, calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, and standing up against powerful actors, including law enforcement, who sought to deny people their First Amendment rights,” Kristi Graunke, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement.
Under the agreement, all sworn personnel at in the Sheriff’s Office, county commissioners, and the county manager will participate in implicit bias and racial equity training by Sept. 24.
“The Alamance NAACP branch and many others in our community are ready for a new day, one where we don’t have to see that monument in the middle of our public square celebrating white supremacy from the Jim Crow era,’ Alamance NAACP President Barrett Brown said in a statement. “This settlement means we shouldn’t have to fear being arrested for protesting that monument or any government policy or practice on the courthouse grounds.”