Things That Matter

They Were Marching Peacefully To The Polls In Honor Of George Floyd When Police Stopped Them With Pepper Spray

We’re less than 24 hours away from one of the most consequential elections ever. It’s so important that we all get out and vote and that’s exactly what one community in North Carolina was trying to do over the weekend when police intervened with pepper spray, preventing many from exercising their right to vote.

The march was a ‘get out the vote’ march in honor of George Floyd and other Black Americans killed by police. When they were stopped to observe a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd, police moved in and dispersed the crowd with pepper spray – including the elderly, children, and journalists.

Many are calling the police interference an obvious form of voter suppression or intimidation. Unfortunately, it isn’t the only similar story from the past few weeks.

Protesters were marching to the polls in honor of Black Americans killed by police when they were attacked.

On the final day of early voting in North Carolina, police in Alamance County pepper-sprayed a group of voters who were marching to the polls, leaving demonstrators injured and vomiting in the streets.

About 250 people—most of them Black—were taking part in an event called I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls and on their final stop before visiting a polling place in downtown Graham when cops intervened. Law enforcement officers used pepper spray to break up the crowd, a decision that has drawn criticism from the state’s governor and civil rights groups.

According to the Graham Police Department, law enforcement pepper sprayed the ground to disperse the crowd in at least two instances — first, after marchers did not move out of the road following a moment of silence, and again after an officer was “assaulted” and the event deemed “unsafe and unlawful.”

But the event’s organizers and other attendees have said they did nothing to warrant the response, and that they wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights and march to the polls.

“I and our organization, marchers, demonstrators and potential voters left here sunken, sad, traumatized, obstructed and distracted from our intention to lead people all the way to the polls,” said the march organizer, the Rev. Gregory Drumwright, in a news conference Sunday. “Let me tell you something: We were beaten, but we will not be broken,” he added.

The march to the polls was organized in response to the police killings of unarmed Black Americans.

The “I Am Change” march was branded as a “march to the polls” in honor of Black people whose deaths have fueled protests over racial injustice, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin, among others, according to a flyer for the event.

The rally started at the Wayman’s Chapel AME Church and included a stop at the Confederate Monument in Court Square before they were set to continue to a nearby polling place. While stopped for a moment of silence at Court Square in honor of George Floyd, police ordered them to clear the streets.

“Once it was clear that they had no intention to clear the road,” police deployed the pepper spray at the ground, and the crowd then moved to the proper designated area, according to officers.

Many are calling the brazen tactics an explicit form of voter suppression.

Scott Huffman, a North Carolina Democratic congressional candidate who attended the march, said in a video shared on Twitter that demonstrators were exercising their First Amendment rights and that the organizers had obtained proper permits. 

According to marchers, some officers were allowing the protesters to march, but others weren’t, an obvious sign of the breakdown in communication between departments. 

The incident was criticized by a number of officials and civil rights groups, including the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, whose executive director likened it to “voter intimidation.”

“We need to find a way to close the book on voter suppression and police violence if we are to start a new chapter in our story that recognizes the importance of protecting everyone’s right to vote,” said ACLU of North Carolina executive director Chantal Stevens.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper shared the Raleigh News & Observer’s article about the march on Twitter and called the incident “unacceptable.”

“Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated,” the governor said

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