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North Carolina police pepper-spray protesters marching to polls on final day of early voting

Officers in North Carolina used pepper spray on protesters and arrested eight people at a get-out-the-vote rally at Alamance County’s courthouse Saturday during the final day of early voting, the City of Graham Police Department confirmed.

Driving the news: The peaceful "I Am Change" march to the polls was organized by Rev. Greg Drumwright, from the Citadel Church in Greensboro, N.C., and included a minute's silence for George Floyd. Melanie Mitchell told the News & Observer her daughters, age 5 and 11, were among those pepper-sprayed by police soon after.

Alamance County, NC is home for me. The courthouse where cops pepper sprayed people participating in a march to the polls is the same place where the KKK in 1870 hanged Wyatt Outlaw, the first Black elected official in Graham. A confederate monument stands there today.

— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) October 31, 2020
  • Alamance County sheriff's deputies "dressed in camo, gas masks, and tactical gear" tackled Drumwright and "at least four others" to the ground, per the Daily Beast and Triad City Beat, which noted most of the 250 protesters were Black.
  • Protester Belle Boggs, who took her 6-year-old daughter to the event, told BuzzFeed News, "Less than a minute after [officers] telling people to clear the streets, we were pepper sprayed. There wasn't time to clear the streets safely because of social distancing guidelines and the fact that many people were elderly or had children with them."
  • Drumwright said protesters were allowed to gather outside the courthouse square and that police had escorted them through the streets before the officers pepper-sprayed them, AP notes.
"We are fed up with this kind of treatment in Alamance County and in Graham City. 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."
Drummond in a Facebook live after the incident

What they're saying: "Unfortunately the rally in Graham ended due to concerns for the safety of all," the Alamance County Sheriff's office said in a short statement.

  • The City of Graham Police Department said in a statement the protesters were blocking the roadway near the courthouse and traffic was backing up in all directions and the crowd was told to clear the road and move to the permitted areas nearby.
  • "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," the police statement said, adding that the rally had become "unsafe" and protesters were warned to disperse or "force would be used and you would be subject to arrest."
"Several people remained after the final warning and officers again deployed a pepper based vapor onto the ground to assist in the dispersing the crowd. At no time during this event did any member of the Graham Police Department directly spray any participant in the march with chemical irritants."

Of note: North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement he had visited the courthouse following the "troubling events" and the situation was now calm, but added: "All eligible voters in North Carolina have a constitutional right to cast their vote safely and securely, without threats or intimidation."

  • He said the State Board of Elections told him that the events "appear not to have impacted voting at the early voting location" and that he reached out to the Alamance County Sheriff but had yet to hear back.

The big picture: The event was among dozens of get-out-the vote campaigns around the country encouraging early voting.

Go deeper: The massive early vote

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