GRAHAM, N.C. — The organizer of a ‘March to the Polls’ rally and seven others ended up in jail after the movement stalled in the streets on the last day of early voting in Graham.
The peaceful march took a turn when around 200 people kneeled on South Main Street in front of the Alamance County Courthouse Square for eight minutes and 46 seconds to honor of George Floyd.
Police respected that moment but told FOX8 shortly after the tribute they ordered people out of the street for safety reasons.
“Instead of closing the street, the police chief and the city officials were intent on creating a public hazard,” said rally organizer and Reverend Gregory Drumwright. “A public safety hazard by allowing cars to circle that courthouse while we were convening a peaceful rally.”
In documents released by the Graham Police Department. officers presented Drumwright with five different routes where the participants could march in the street up to a certain point. There was never an agreement to close any street to traffic for the entire march.
“We were not wanting to authorize because it would limit access to the voting polls, so we didn’t want to have anything to do to interfere with that,” explained Lieutenant Daniel Sisk with the Graham Police Department.
Police told FOX8 they tried to schedule a walkthrough of the route with the Drumwright before the event but he never showed up. Documents show no permits were ever issued to close the road because deadlines were missed.
Lieutenant Sisk said when the large crowd refused to move out of the street and officer’s warnings were ignored, they used pepper spray.
“They had no intention to clear the road,” Sisk explained. “We sprayed a couple sprays on the ground and the crowds moved to their respective areas.”
Drumwright never expected pepper spray to be deployed.
“My eyes are still burning from the tear gas,” he said. “My face is still on fire from the tear gas.”
Some of that spray came in the direction of local activist Dejuana Bigelow and her three-year-old daughter Zoey. “The first reaction was to scoop my daughter up,” she said. “Try to cover her head up, try to keep her protected from more of that substance.”
“We didn’t want anybody to get hurt and the fact that a child was exposed to pepper fog is unfortunate,” said Sisk.
Graham Police arrested eight people and told FOX8 an officer was assaulted when he was hit in the chest during the rally. Bigelow and Drumwright are asking for more to be done.
“I want, we want accountability,” Bigelow added.
“We were beaten, but we’re not going to be broken,” said Drumwright. “We had history on our side. There should’ve been confidence placed behind our organization and our efforts to convene peacefully once again,” referring to the rally to end racial injustice back in July.
The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office on Monday afternoon said deputies arrested and charged 15 people. One person was charged with having a weapon. Eleven people, including Drumright, were charged with failure to disperse on command. One person was charged with filing a false police report. One person was charged with misdemeanor riot. Another person was charged with resisting a public officer.
Since some participants did not have an opportunity to vote, Drumwright is planning another “March to the Polls’ event on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3 starting at 9 a.m. in Graham.