When the protest was deemed “unsafe and illegal” due to unspecified “actions”, according to the Graham Police Department, officers sprayed pepper on the ground to disperse the crowd.
But Scott Huffman, a North Carolina Democratic congressional candidate who attended the march, said law enforcement in Graham, 30 miles east of Greensboro, only used their first-amendment rights when protesters used pepper spray.
The “I Am Change” march was branded a “parade for the election,” where participants were encouraged to march in memory of black people whose deaths provoked protests against racial injustice, including an event for George Floyd, Brona Taylor and Travon Martin.
Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the families of many victims of police brutality, was scheduled to speak at the event, along with Flyer shows George Floyd’s daughter – in – law Brooke Williams.
At least eight people were arrested during the rally, including one that failed to disperse and an attack on a law enforcement officer, Graham police said.
The Alumni County Sheriff’s Office said he was arrested during the demonstration, citing “permit violations.” Gregory Drumride, a pastor and activist, received to lead the rally.
“Mr. Drumright chose not to be bound by the agreed rules,” the sheriff’s office said. “As a result, after the permit was violated, the disorderly conduct of the participants led to the arrest, the protest was considered an illegal assembly and the participants were asked to leave.”
Suspended in court from March until polling station
The rally was expected to start at 11 a.m. at Woman’s Chapel AME Church and stop at the Confederation Memorial in Court Square, before ending at a polling station on Elm Street, Flyer said for the event.
Once in Court Square, police decided to disperse the crowd, and according to Graham police, traffic was backed up as people stopped on the road for about 9 minutes. The police statement said that blocking the road was a “prohibited move and it would be strictly enforced”.
Officers from the Graham Police Department told members of the crowd to return to designated areas near Graham Court, but when they did not do so, police “used a crowd control measure and sprayed pepper-based vapor on the ground.”
The meeting then proceeded to the designated area. But later, law enforcement considered the rally “unsafe and illegal” as a result of “actions taken inside the rally,” police said, without describing the “actions” of the protesters.
The crowd was ordered to disperse and warned several times that pepper spray would be used if they failed to do so. Five minutes later, several people were staying, and officers sprayed pepper on the ground again, the sheriff’s office said.
“No member of the Graham Police Department sprayed any person participating in the parade directly with chemical irritants at any time during the event,” police said.
He said he could not call it an attempt to suppress the vote, but “that is what happened.
“There are people today who don’t vote because they ended up in jail,” he said.
CNN is trying to reach the drummer for further feedback.
The NC Democrat says the measures are ‘voter repression’
Following the march, another participant, Raine Bennett, told CNN that George Floyd had been stopped by protesters in Court Square for eight minutes and that “there was a police presence and they had no problem with it.”
But then Bennett saw what he described as a “mess” and people started shouting. He saw a woman injured, and then smelled pepper spray.
“Everyone coughs and runs,” he said, “because it was good, it was good.”
“Peaceful protesters can hear their voices and cannot tolerate voter intimidation in any form,” the governor said.
North Carolina Democrat leader Wayne Goodwin has condemned a law enforcement action, calling it “absolutely unnecessary police hostility and voter repression.”
“It’s important that local law enforcement conduct themselves in this way. North Carolinians are not new to repressing and intimidating voters – we know when we look at it,” Goodwin said. “The North Carolina Democrats want to have quick and clear consequences for offending officials.”
Patrick Cannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Election Board, said the incident had no effect on voting.
“Voting continues, not interrupted,” Cannon said.
But pollster Jane Pepler, who worked at a polling station on Elm Street, said it did not mean people were not encouraged by what had happened.
“We thought a lot of people would come after this event,” Pepper told CNN. “We got into the hands of more people because this meeting was supposed to end in an election, but before they got here it broke into the courtroom.”
CNN’s Diane Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed to the report.