GRAHAM, N.C. — The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in federal court after Saturday’s events in Graham.
This comes just hours after the Democratic Congressional Delegation sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking them to look into the pepper spraying of a crowd marching to the polls.
The ACLU and Democratic Congressional leaders claim voter intimidation was the goal.
The ACLU said law enforcement incited violence on peaceful protestors who were marching to the polls. The lawsuit is on behalf of Reverend Gregory Drumwright, organizer of Saturday’s march, and Ann Jones, a community activist with People for Change.
Some protestors said they did not make it to the polls to cast their ballots in time for early voting because of what happened once authorities deployed pepper spray.
Saturday, 15 people were arrested for charges ranging from resisting a public officer, failure to disperse and misdemeanor rioting.
Alamance County deputies and Graham Police said they noticed a gas-powered generator amongst the crowd of hundreds. When they tried to remove it, authorities said they were met with pushback from protestors.
“We know that there are many versions of the events from Saturday, and hope that our community will try to understand the difficult decisions that were made,” Michelle Mills, Alamance County Sheriff’s Office diversity coordinator, said.
At a Monday press conference, Mills said they gave the crowd three verbal warnings before deploying pepper spray.
Mills explained not bringing flammable materials was a stipulation in the agreement they had with event organizer Reverend Drumwright.
When law enforcement tried to remove the generator from the crowd, deputies said things escalated.
“At this point, several people began pulling and shoving our deputies,” Mills said.
Some said regardless of what was agreed upon prior to the march, there was no need for the kind of altercation that occurred.
“If you’re going to protect and serve, regardless of what the contract says, people have the right to assemble.” Curtis Gatewood, community activist said.
One deputy was reportedly injured and three verbal warnings to get out of the streets were given before deputies said pepper spray was deployed.
A participant in the march, Janet Johnson, got caught in the midst of the pepper spray. She was seen in a now-viral video, experiencing a medical episode in her electric scooter: what she said was a result of complications brought on by the pepper spray.
“I said, ‘Don’t!’ And next thing I know, it hit me,” Johnson explained
Johnson had just dropped her ballot off at the polls when she got caught in the midst of the pepper spray.
She began experiencing breathing complications as a result of it.
“I could not breathe. and the only thing that I could think about at that time was, ‘Am I going to die? Am I going to die?’ I never had that experience before,” Johnson said as tears filled her eyes.
She, along with Governor Roy Cooper who took to social media Saturday to talk about the incident, expressed concern that this incident was a form of voter intimidation.
“Told us we cannot go to the street, we cannot go to the sidewalk. I really believe it was intended to cause chaos and commotion to not allow people to make it there by 3:30 (p.m.),” Johnson said
FOX8 tried to ask a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office about this claim but was prevented from asking questions at the press conference, and so far our emails have not been answered.
Some voters who said they were already feeling the impacts of voter intimidation by opposing citizens, intended to cast their ballots with the group, saying they felt safer.
Tabitha Davis and her friend said they are now forced to make other plans to head to the polls Tuesday.
“The only option is to vote on Tuesday. We definitely plan on going together. We plan to meet each other and go with each other to our polling stations because that’s our only option,” Davis, Alamance County voter said.
Reverend Drumwright is hosting another march to the polls event which starts at 4 p.m.
Drumwright took to social media to notify voters he and local activists will be giving rides to the elderly and people living with disabilities.
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