On October 31, police assaulted a group of about 200 Black adults, elders and children as young as age 3 in Graham, North Carolina, during an “I Am Change” march. Led by Rev. Greg Drumwright of Greensboro, the nearly two-hour march was scheduled to conclude at an early-voting site, but throngs of people were assaulted with pepper spray, several news outlets reported, including the Washington Post.
In an interview with NPR shortly after his release from county jail for “failure to disperse on command,” Drumwright explained that he had a permit for the march:
We were being imposed upon, and we were being confronted by the same law enforcement agencies that we had coordinated with to protect and serve us for a rally that we were permitted to have. We were being dispersed or forced to disperse in the midst of our peaceful protest. We were to leave that rally in a—in just a few more minutes and head to the polls. This is something that we have worked on for the greater part of this month with the law enforcement agencies. And we begged them not to come in with militia force to oppress and suppress our march to the polls.
According to a statement released by the City of Graham Police Department on October 31, which acknowledged Drumwright’s permit to march, the marchers were pepper sprayed because they allegedly blocked a roadway for which “Mr. Drumwright missed the deadline” for a permit. It read in part:
At this time the crowd was given the command to clear the roadway and to move to the permitted area on courthouse property or one of the two areas designated by Graham Police. When the crowd failed to disperse, after several verbal commands, officers with the Graham Police Department utilized a crowd control measure that consisted of spraying a pepper based vapor onto the ground. At that time the crowd began moving to the designated areas and the rally resumed. 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.
Yet Drumwright’s Facebook video showed law enforcement’s attack happened in front of the Alamance County courthouse, not on a roadway near traffic. In addition to small children and elders, parents of Christian Griggs (killed by his white father-in-law in North Carolina in 2013) spoke during the march and the family members of George Floyd (killed on May 25 by Minneapolis Police Department officers) were also reported to be in attendance.
Participants told The Post their goal was to increase voter turnout. North Carolina, with its 15 electoral votes, was named one of eight states that will decide the 2020 presidential election by Politico. As a result, Drumwright—who was reportedly told to stay away from the city of Graham for 72 hours following his arrest—and others know that encouraging people to vote is crucial.
When NPR asked Drumwright if he suspected that the violent response by law enforcement was the city’s attempt to suppress turnout, he responded that the proof was in the actions.
“I cannot say that that was what it was, but I can say that’s what happened,” Drumwright told NPR. “There are people that did not get to vote today because they ended up in jail.”
Not to be deterred, Drumwright is planning another rally tomorrow, on Election Day (November 3), right back at Graham, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.