North Carolina Cops Pepper-Spray Voting Rights Marchers, Because It's Still 1965, Apparently
Police in Graham, North Carolina, fired a “pepper-based vapor" — or, you know, pepper spray — at Americans during a voter turnout march this weekend. This left people, including children, coughing and struggling to breathe. The cops even pepper-sprayed a woman using a wheelchair.
Those marching were on their way from the Wayman Chapel AME Church to an early voting site. They had stopped at a Confederate monument in front of the Alamance County Courthouse. The monument is a source of contention between people who aren't racists and people who are. Citizens were peacefully listening to speeches about racial justice and the urgency of voting, when the police showed up and ordered them to disperse. The police presumably don't appreciate either subject. They might've preferred hearing "Freebird."
Reportedly, people were supposed to remain behind cones or a fence, not in the roadway, but the police gave them no time to move before pepper-spraying them. Cops believe the best de-escalation is escalation. It's quite the contrast to Donald Trump's superspreader rallies that regularly violate state coronavirus guidelines banning large gatherings of idiots. The police don't show up and forcibly disperse those crowds. Last night, Trump's Miami rally defied the city's 11 p.m. coronavirus curfew. So much law and order!
@davidfrum @beatrice_frum @SheriffAlamance caused this woman in a wheelchair to have a seizure, then sprayed those… https://t.co/dCacqKjMHU— Nat Frum (@Nat Frum)1604177881.0
From the Washington Post:
Kyesha Willis of Burlington, her mother, Angela Willis, and her 3-year-old son were all at the march and were sprayed. Kyesha Willis said her family had gotten to the monument 10 minutes before police started trying to disperse the crowd.
"I heard people screaming, 'You can't be in the road,' but I wasn't in the road," she said. "We walked further and further away but it kept coming at us." She said she vomited and tried to cover her son's face.
It's very important to stay out of the road. People could get hurt. You never know when some assholes might show up and pepper-spray you.
Supporters of the Confederate memorial watched from outside tables at a soda shop somewhere in 1950. Someone demanded the marchers “get off the streets!" and a truck festooned with Trump 2020 flags cruised around the courthouse during the rally.
This incident is unacceptable. Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidat… https://t.co/6SAwf432bt— Governor Roy Cooper (@Governor Roy Cooper)1604190601.0
Graham police said they made eight arrests, because the pepper spray wasn't enough. One of the people arrested was the “I Am Change" march organizer, Rev. Greg Drumwright. He was ordered to leave town and not return for 72 hours, which is conveniently after the election. "We're shaken. We are tattered. We're torn," said Drumwright. "There are people that did not vote today because the police released tear gas and pepper spray."
The police released a statement claiming “the assembly reached a level of conduct that led to the rally being deemed unsafe and unlawful by unified command." Just what was that inappropriate “level of conduct"? Marchers paused quietly and peacefully at the Confederate monument to mark the time that a killer cop kept his knee on George Floyd's neck. That was eight minutes and 46 seconds, which was apparently enough time to “back up traffic" by the courthouse. George Floyd's niece was scheduled to speak but never got the chance. The police silenced her, as well.
Speeches briefly resumed, with those gathered raising their fists in opposition to a law enforcement arranged on the courthouse's steps. "We came in peace," Drumwright said. "You have disturbed our peace. We will not stand down. We believe in democracy. We believe in change. We ask you to honor our permit and our right to occupy this space until 2 o'clock, and we will peacefully do so."
This isn't the first time local police have tried to ignore the First Amendment recently. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Alamance County Sheriff's Office this summer for denying protest permits at the Confederate monument. The Ace Speedway in Alamance held a series of stock car races that was grossly defined as a “protest" as a loophole against Governor Roy Cooper's bans on mass gatherings. Sheriff Terry Johnson, who's been sued for “discriminatory policing," didn't leap into action with the pepper spray.
"I saw people beginning to flee up the sidewalks. I saw a parent carrying a child . . . wearing a princess costume or a fairy costume for Halloween, who was sobbing and coughing and rubbing her eyes," said Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, 42, a political organizer.
One demonstrator, in a live stream of the incident, can be heard exclaiming, "The police started this."
This thin blue line is what we have to fear after the election. People who pepper-spray children might do whatever a deposed president orders. But we're not going to back down. We're too close to change.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."