In the aftermath, as partisans spew their rationalization in response to partisans accusations, there will still be Graham, North Carolina. While there’s more than enough basis to reject riots and looting, this was about as peaceful as a protest gets. Indeed, was it even a protest, or merely Americans celebrating their rights? So naturally, they were pepper sprayed for it.
A racially diverse group of about 200 people walked with a police escort from Wayman’s Chapel AME Church to Court Square, where they held a rally encouraging people to vote. The event was organized by Rev. Greg Drumwright, a Burlington native who leads the the Citadel Church in Greensboro, according to his website.
At least three politicians participated in some parts of the event: the current mayor of Burlington, Ian Baltutis; Democratic candidate for county commissioner Dreama Caldwell; and Democratic school board candidate Seneca Rodgers.
What possible problem could any American have with encouraging their fellow citizens to exercise their civic right to vote?
Drumwright was among those arrested, along with many activists associated with the group People for Change, which has organized frequent demonstrations in Court Square this summer. Also arrested were Caldwell’s campaign manager and Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski.
Tom Boney Jr., the publisher of the newspaper, said Murawksi was taking photos on the street when he was arrested.
Sure, nail a reporter while you’re at it. You’ve got children, elected officials, clergy, journalists. Did we miss anybody?
— Nat Frum (@natfrum) October 31, 2020
What in the world could these good people, these Americans, these friends, family and neighbors have done that was so bad, so detrimental to public health and safety, so venal as to justify any use of force against them, no less this level of force?
In a statement released Saturday evening, Graham police said Drumwright and the marchers hadn’t followed proper procedures for holding the event. The department said that it warned the group that it would not be allowed to close the road, said Lt. Daniel Sisk, a spokesman for the Graham police.
Sure, closing roads is a problem, even if not quite the same as beating random drivers or closing highways with thousands of drivers on them, or when it’s done by the Philly cops. So ask the marchers to keep to the side, divert them off the asphalt and on to the sidewalk. But pepper spray?
The department defended its use of pepper spraying, by saying, “[T]he assembly reached a level of conduct that led to the rally being deemed unsafe and unlawful by unified command.”
There was no violence. There was no rioting or looting. There was nothing but Americans marching in furtherance of the exercise of a constitutional right. On roads, perhaps, but that’s not a threat of force. Yet, the police “deemed” it “unsafe,” and so “unsafe” that they unleashed OC on their neighbors.
This is North Carolina, not a place known for its encouragement of the exercise of rights. And this outrageous use of force was rightfully condemned.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said on Twitter that he went to the courthouse in Graham after hearing about the day’s events. “All eligible voters in North Carolina have a constitutional right to cast their vote safely and securely, without threats or intimidation,” Stein wrote on Twitter. Through a spokeswoman, Stein declined to speak with The News & Observer Saturday night.
Gov. Roy Cooper also used Twitter to comment on the events in Graham. Like Stein, he declined an interview through a spokesman. “This incident is unacceptable,” Cooper wrote on Twitter. “Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated.”
This was, without question, “unacceptable.” The problem is that it happened, and that post hoc condemnation, while better than nothing, doesn’t change the intimidation, harm and pain this action caused. That the Alamance County Sheriff engaged in this flagrant effort at voter intimidation can be punished, but cannot be undone.