Gaining national scorn after pepper-spraying voters during a “March to the Polls” just wasn’t enough for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.
Now, the same cops are bringing felony charges against the march’s organizer.
The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office announced that it is charging the Rev. Greg Drumwright with two felony counts stemming from the rally and march, which occurred on the last day of early voting in North Carolina. Drumwright, who has led multiple recent Black Lives Matter marches in Graham and Alamance County, was charged with felony assault with physical injury on law enforcement officer and felony obstructing justice. He was previously charged with a misdemeanor for failing to disperse on command.
Additional misdemeanor charges were brought against two other March to the Polls attendees. The sheriff’s department issued the charges “after reviewing additional video taken of the altercation and consulting with the Alamance County District Attorney,” they claim.
The charges were quickly condemned on social media, including by Down Home North Carolina, a local grassroots group that’s supported recent protests and rallies in Graham.
“This is a clear attempt to criminalize protest and dissent in Alamance County,” the group wrote on Facebook. “It is also an unbelievable doubling down by Sheriff Johnson and the racist power structure that upholds him here. We are deeply worried for the many local folks engaging in democratic processes who are being criminally targeted, over and over again.”
“It is hard to feel safe here,” the post concludes.
A clear attempt to criminalize protest & an unbelievable doubling down by Sheriff Johnson & the racist power structure that upholds him in #Alamance County. We’re deeply worried for the many folks who are being criminally targetted, over & over again. https://t.co/BxWRikeba0
— Down Home North Carolina (@DownHome_NC) November 19, 2020
The ACLU of North Carolina also condemned the charges.
“We stand with Rev. Drumwright and other voters who gathered to speak out against racial injustice and participate in our democracy,” Kristi Graunke, the group’s legal director, said in a statement. “These additional charges send a message that the Alamance County sheriff does not respect the First Amendment rights of the people he claims to serve.”
Elizabeth Haddix, the managing attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the charges “retaliation.”
“Rev. Drumwright and members of Justice 4 the Next Generation were merely expressing and celebrating their constitutional rights on Oct. 31 and should not face criminal charges as a result,” Haddix said in the statement. “These new charges are retaliation for our clients’ continued advocacy in Graham and the lawsuit filed against Sheriff Johnson on November 2nd, intended to pressure Rev. Drumwright and members of Justice 4 the Next Generation for challenging law enforcement officers’ use of pepper spray and other excessive force on protestors of white supremacy and police brutality against Black Americans.”
“We stand with Rev. Drumwright and other voters who gathered to speak out against racial injustice and participate in our democracy,” said Kristi Graunke, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina. Full statement 👉 https://t.co/OonEni2Og6 pic.twitter.com/hrxI1z1OBD
— ACLU of North Carolina (@ACLU_NC) November 20, 2020
The November 2 suit against Alamance County Sherriff Terry Johnson and Graham Police Chief Kristy Cole—in response to their department’s handling of the March to the Polls—seeks to “protect protestors’ rights to free speech and assembly” in addition to “rights protected under Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act,” according to the state ACLU.
Johnson previously faced a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights lawsuit for alleged racial profiling of Latinx residents. He’s no stranger to controversy stemming from his response to various protests over the years. His office made headlines this summer when it responded to protests against a towering Confederate monument in Graham by saying they wouldn’t grant permits for the site “for the foreseeable future.” Those plans were suspended after the ACLU of North Carolina sued.
A Change.org petition calling for Johnson’s resignation earlier this year has received more than 8,000 signatures.
Drumwright criticized the charges in a statement to the Burlington Times News, saying: “Throughout this entire summer of fighting against white supremacy and racial injustices there in Graham, the law enforcement entities (Graham Police and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office) in Alamance County have worked desperately to find ways to criminalize peaceful protesters and community organizers.”
Undeterred, Drumwright announced another racial justice march in Graham scheduled for November 28, as well as a strategic economic boycott.
YES, we are marching again in Graham on 11/28 for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM & YES we are announcing an economic boycott, and the only businesses that need to be concerned are those that are racially disparaging minorities and supporting WHITE SUPREMACY. pic.twitter.com/o97lX7c7EI
— Rev. Greg Drumwright (@gregdrumwright) November 21, 2020
A follow-up tweet with details for the protest dubbed the event a “peaceful protest 4 criminal justice reform.”
The sheriff’s office acknowledged they have been notified of the planned protest and said that it “strongly encourages all those that attend the November 28 demonstration to refrain from harming people and property, blocking streets and intersections, and trespassing, as these actions are illegal and can result in arrest.”
In the press statement, the Sheriff’s department also shared an anonymous recording allegedly of Drumwright stating: “I’m here to announce that yes, we will march again and while we may not all agree on a march, what we need to understand is that, it’s either at this point, a march or a riot. We work with others, we’re at war.”
The Graham Police Department—which was also involved in arrests at the March to the Polls but claimed its officers didn’t use pepper spray—announced an “after action review” for their response to the march and rally. In a November 10 Facebook statement from Chief Cole, the department said part of the review would include examining use-of-force protocols.
“We pride ourselves on being a learning organization,” the statement reads. “We continually strive to find better, safer, and more efficient practices in all aspects of policing to best serve our community.”
Immediately after the arrests and violence at the October 31 rally, the North Carolina Democratic Party condemned how Graham police and Alamance County sheriff’s deputies handled the event.
“The actions of these officers represent completely unwarranted police hostility and voter suppression,” party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said at the time. “It is egregious that local law enforcement would conduct themselves this way. North Carolinians are no strangers to voter suppression and intimidation—we know it when we see it. The North Carolina Democratic Party calls for swift and clear consequences for the offending officers.”
Follow Interim News Editor Eric Ginsburg on Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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