A North Carolina police department is under fire after a video was released of officers at a voter registration rally over the weekend pepper-spraying a group of peaceful protesters and injuring minors and the elderly.
On Saturday, officers in Graham, North Carolina, were seen in riot gear violently clashing with demonstrators near a Confederate monument outside of the Alamance County courthouse, according to The Washington Post. At least eight people, including lead organizer Rev. Greg Drumwright, were arrested during the event.
“We never made it to the polls,” Drumwright said. “We believe that this interaction, this interference from local authorities, has obstructed our marchers from not only lifting up our First Amendment rights to protest, to speak out, but also our rights to vote.”
Drumwright, who led the group from a Black church to an early voting location on Saturday, said demonstrators were given 14 seconds before the police attacked them, Democracy Now reports.
“I know that we are shaken, we are tattered, we’re torn. We are pressed on every side,” Drumwright said.
“We were assembled today to have a peaceful demonstration against police brutality, against systemic oppression, and racial inequities right here in our hometown,” he continued. "To come back here and be confronted with this suppression of our very rights to organize and to lead people to the polls to vote today, has actually only emboldened us. We’re not going to stop.”
According to The Washington Post, Kyesha Willis said she was pepper-sprayed along with her mother and three-year-old son at the march. Willis said she vomited as she tried to cover her son’s face and nose to protect him.
“I heard people screaming, ‘You can’t be in the road,’ but I wasn’t in the road,” Willis said. “We walked further and further away but it kept coming at us."
Video also captured the horrific moments of an elderly Black woman appearing to have a seizure while being pepper-sprayed. Fellow marchers frantically provided aid to the distressed woman.
— Nat Frum (@natfrum) October 31, 2020
Drumwright told Democracy Now host Amy Goodman that the woman is in recovery but the assault has cost her great emotional stress.
“We seen her yesterday. She is still recovering. She is very sore, and she is very shaken. And her spirit, as you might imagine, is broken,” he said. “But she’s not cast down, is what she told me. We are hoping that she makes a full recovery. We believe that she has lost the use of one of her mobile wheelchair units.”
The Graham Police Department said that traffic near the courthouse had stalled when marchers took a brief moment to honor the amount of time former police officer Derek Chauvin planted his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
According to a statement from the police department, the officers issued a warning to protesters to clear the roadway for oncoming traffic. After demonstrators failed to move, officers began spraying a "pepper-based vapor" onto the ground.
The crowd was given five minutes to disperse after the assembly was deemed "unsafe and unlawful by unified command" before officers began arresting people.
The Washington Post reports relatives of Floyd and the parents of Christian Griggs, a local Black man killed by his white father-in-law in 2013, participated in the demonstration.
“I’m out here voting for those who cannot vote today: my son, Christian Griggs, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and all those others who have died at the hands of police or have had their lives impacted by an injustice,” Griggs’ mother said.
Democratic congressional candidate Scott Huffman was pepper-sprayed at the march and recorded a message from his car about the experience.
“My eyes are full of pepper spray because, you know, we were peacefully demonstrating. We were exercising our First Amendment rights with Black Lives Matter. And what I’ve witnessed is what is happening all over America. This is wrong. People should be allowed [to show up], to exercise their rights, to vote,” Huffman said.
“We’re all taxpayers. The police work for us. Yet today I witnessed pepper spray, chemical weapons being sprayed on my fellow Americans," he added.
Peaceful protests for Souls to the Polls & Black Lives Matter turned violent because law enforcement tried to take the sound equipment. Proper permits were issued #BLM
— Scott Huffman For Congress (@HuffmanForNC) October 31, 2020
On Saturday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper wrote that the violence toward the demonstrators was “unacceptable.”
This incident is unacceptable. Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated. https://t.co/BHThL9SanK
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) November 1, 2020
“Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated,” the governor tweeted.