Black Lives Matter protesters pepper-sprayed after deviating from planned route

Police: Protesters warned multiple times but failed to disperse

Oct. 31, 2020 — Image of "I am Change" and Black Lives Matter protesters in Graham, North Carolina. Image publicly posted by Greg Drumwright on Facebook.

GRAHAM— Black Lives Matter protesters led by local activist groups were pepper-sprayed after failing to follow dispersal commands from law enforcement.

The protest, called “I Am Change” was led by Rev. Greg Drumwright, a known local and national Black Lives Matter activist. Drumwright operates out of the Citadel Church in Greensboro and his personal website says that he is “one of America’s most promising rising public theologians and social justice organizers of this new decade.” Joining Drumwright was attorney Benjamin Crump, best known for representing Trayvon Martin’s family and that of Breonna Taylor’s family.

A number of videos and images circulated on social media of the protest, including Drumwright’s Facebook page. Several of the videos showed multiple Black Lives Matter Flags and red, green and black Pan-African flags, also known as the Afro-American flag or the Black Liberation flag, were carried by attendees.

The Graham Police Department (GPD) issued a lengthy and detailed statement about the events leading up to the event and what occurred during the protest.  GPD’s statement outlines that Drumwright was aware that his group was out of bounds and would be asked to disperse.

The GPD statement details that Drumwright “missed the deadline to get his road closure on the agenda for the city council meeting on 10/13/2020.” The statement also notes that closing the road at Courtsquare as Drumwright requested “would have limited access and available parking for the polling site.”  It was that same intersection that protesters were asked to move out of the road by GPD after the crowd had come to a stop in the Courtsquare intersection which blocked traffic and access to polling site parking.

“As a result of actions that occurred within the rally, on courthouse grounds, the assembly reached a level of conduct that led to the rally being deemed unsafe and unlawful by unified command,” reads the GPD statement. “The order to disperse was given to the crowd with a 5 minute warning. Warnings were issued at the 3 minute mark, the 2 minute mark and a final warning was provided after 5 minutes had passed.”

“At no time during this event did any member of the Graham Police Department directly spray any participant in the march with chemical irritants,” the GPD statement reads.

A video posted to Drumwright’s personal Facebook page shows protesters surrounding law enforcement who then deployed spray above the ground. It is unclear if the officers are GPD or sheriff’s deputies.

Read the full GPD statement.

The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) statement was much shorter than that of GPD’s but also said that the protesters did not comply with multiple commands to disperse. ACSO’s statement also noted Drumwright had met with officials several times before the event, that he was well-aware of “agreed upon rules” for the protest and that he and his group violated them.

“Mr. Drumwright chose not to abide by the agreed upon rules. As a result, after violations of the permit, along with disorderly conduct by participants leading to arrests, the protest was deemed an unlawful assembly and participants were asked to leave. Mr. Drumwright and participants refused to leave,” the ACSO statement reads in part.

The ACSO statement was clear that officers gave three orders to disperse and those orders were “announced over amplified devices and logged each time.”

“After the first announcement, officers waited five (5) minutes for participants to leave. A second announcement was then made over amplified devices and logged. Officers waited 2 more minutes for participants to leave. Officers then made the third announcement to disperse, again warning
participants that they would be subject to arrests. These announcements can also be heard in social media posts,” the ACSO statement says.

Eight individuals were arrested for failing to comply with dispersal orders on multiple occasions both by the GPD and by Alamance County Sheriff’s deputies.

Both Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein made remarks on Twitter about the incident in Graham. Cooper tweeted that the incident was “unacceptable” and that “peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated.”

“All eligible voters in North Carolina have a constitutional right to cast their vote safely and securely, without threats or intimidation. After today’s troubling events in Alamance County, I went to the courthouse in Graham and all is calm now,” said Stein in a tweet thread.

In a second tweet, Stein said that he “reached out to the State Board of Elections and was informed that the events appear not to have impacted voting at the early voting location. The site there was calm, and the voters got in line and voted.”

Neither Stein nor Cooper has commented on Black Lives Matter flags flying at an early polling location in Carrboro despite multiple citizen complaints of intimidation which prompted the N.C. State Board of Elections to send town officials a letter to remove them.  The Mayor of Carrboro and the town council rejected the NCSBE’s request and kept the flags up. The NCSBE is taking no further action but will “take steps” to keep that location from being a polling site in the future.

Protesters claimed on social media there was no warning and that officers pepper-sprayed people in the face. There were claims made that children were hit by the pepper spray by two parents with children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old. Another woman, Veronica Holman, told media outlets that her 3-year-old grand-nephew was affected and “threw up.” These claims are as of yet uncorroborated, however, multiple videos and photos do show officers deploying pepper-spray vapor towards the ground per protocol.

The protest was billed as a “non-partisan” get-out-the-vote rally, yet congressional candidate Scott Huffman was seen marching at the front of the crowd through the streets of Graham. Huffman is the Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Ted Budd in the state’s 13th Congressional District.

“They should not be doing this to fellow Americans. Black lives matter. All lives won’t matter until we stop this, and I mean it,” he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

Huffman’s video message then turned political, urging his “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.”  It is unclear what “white supremacist” and “neo-Nazis” Huffman was referring to.

Also in attendance was Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis, donning a Biden/Harris face covering.

Several groups on the Left were involved in the event, such as Justice 4 The Next Generation (j4tNG) Forward Motion Alamance, Down Home NC and People for Change. J4tNG appears to be the main group and is directly tied to Drumwright yet the group was not billed in any of the announcements for the protest. J4tNG appears to be mainly used for fundraising by Drumwright and describes itself as a “coalition of millennial leaders organizing and advocate against racial inequality in America.”

In an emailed statement to North State Journal, the NCSBE said that they have not received any calls from voters who did not have a chance to vote because of Saturday’s incidents in Alamance County.

“It is our understanding that early voting was not disrupted Saturday. Voters may still return an absentee by mail ballot if they requested one or vote at their assigned precinct on Election Day,” Patrick Gannon, NCSBE Communications Director said in the email.