North Carolina police pepper sprayed and arrested attendees at a get-out-the vote rally because participants blocked the roadway without authorization, authorities said on Saturday.
The “I Am Change” march to the polls was organized by the Reverend Greg Drumwright and began as a march from a local church to the courthouse. Drumwright said the group was permitted to stand in the square outside the Alamance county courthouse and was escorted through the streets by the police. He also said that the group had “no intention” of having the rally in the street.
“We are fed up with this kind of treatment in Alamance county and in Graham city,” Drumwright said in a Facebook live video following the altercation. “Both of those law entities … colluded to suppress peaceful organizers, who were here not only to vote today, but to call an end to system oppression and racial disparages.”
Lindsay Ayling, a graduate student and anti-racism activist who participated in the rally, said police used teargas indiscriminately and without reason on the crowd, including on children.
“The police were looking for excuses to use pepper spray and arrest members of the crowd,“ she said.
Graham police said they released the spray toward the ground not “directly” toward any participant. They also said they issued several warnings to the crowd before pepper spraying and later arresting eight people.
Saturday was the last day to vote early in North Carolina, a state Donald Trump needs to win to boost his prospects of defeating Joe Biden. North Carolina attorney general Josh Stein called the events in Graham “troubling”. He said election officials told him polling places stayed open and people continued to vote.
“All eligible voters in North Carolina have a constitutional right to cast their vote safely and securely, without threats or intimidation,” said Stein, a Democrat.
A Confederate monument outside the Alamance county courthouse has been a target for demonstrations since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.
A press release from Graham police said the march didn’t have permission to block traffic. Drumwright asked police and the Alamance county sheriff’s office if authorities could block the roadway for the rally, but the request was never completed because Drumwright “missed the deadline”, police said.
Police said attendees paused in the roadway for about nine minutes, creating traffic back-ups “in all directions around court square”. Later, police asked the crowd to disperse, giving them a five-minute warning to leave the roadway. After the time passed, police said they released the spray.