Voter intimidation lawsuit filed after North Carolina police pepper-spray marchers

The police allege they issued a warning before they sprayed the crowd, but protestors say otherwise.

Police in North Carolina pepper-sprayed and arrested individuals who participated in a voting march on Saturday. Now they are being sued.

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Officers in Graham, North Carolina are being sued for voter intimidation and violation of constitutional rights, according to BuzzFeed. Over 200 people attended the I Am Change event that took place this past weekend. The event was designed to encourage voters to get to the polls on the last day of early voting.

During the event, marchers paused for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, the amount of time former police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Marchers say officers began to pepper-spray them after that.

“The police violence in Graham, N.C. perpetrated against a group of peaceful and primarily Black protestors over the weekend is yet another clear violation of the right to free speech and the right to vote,” per a statement by Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The lawsuit says the force used by Graham police chief Kristy Cole and Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson against the marchers violates the First, Fourth, and 15th Amendments and other voter laws. It was filed on behalf of Edith Ann Jones, Rev. Gregory Drumwright, and Justice for the Next Generation and is supported by the North Carolina ACLU.

pepper spray North Carolina voting march
(Adobe Stock)

In a press release, the Graham Police Department said they asked protestors to get out of the road after the tribute to Floyd because traffic began to back up and when they refused, things escalated. The group moved to another area but police shut down the march for ‘conduct’ police deemed unsafe and when the crowd refused to disperse, they made arrests and pepper-sprayed them again. The police said they issued a warning before they took action, but the lawsuit says they did not.

“During the rally, the Graham Police Department made eight arrests for different offenses to include resist delay and obstruct, failure to disperse, and one count of assault on a law enforcement officer,” a portion of the statement read. “Demographic details will be released on a later date. Prior to this march the Graham Police Department initially had contact with the organizer. However, the organizer failed to establish viable communication with our department for the planning portion of the rally.”

They also say the organizer agreed that marchers would be strictly prohibited from blocking roadways.

Marchers say they won’t be deterred and the defendants who have brought the lawsuit intend to ensure voting rights for the future.

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“Racially motivated attacks on peaceful demonstrators is a form of grotesque voter intimidation and we cannot continue to let these acts of violence continue,” Clarke said.

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