Alamance County’s leaders have closed ranks with local law enforcement officials over the forceful response to a demonstration that took place on Saturday in front of the county’s historic courthouse.
During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the county’s board of commissioners defended the controversial crowd management tactics that sheriff’s deputies and municipal police officers used against the 100-plus participants in a “march to the polls” that the Rev. Greg Drumwright of Greensboro had mobilized on the last day of early voting in Graham.
Drumwright and the event’s other organizers had obtained the county’s prior approval to hold a rally on the grounds of the county’s historic courthouse after their five-block procession along North Main Street. The marchers ultimately reached Court Square without incident only to have members of Graham’s police department release pepper spray on the crowd allegedly because it wouldn’t clear the roadway ahead of the rally. The police department went on to employ other crowd control measures in coordination with the office of Alamance County’s sheriff, while police officers and sheriffs deputies arrested nearly two dozen people, including the Rev. Drumwright himself, for various misdemeanor offenses.
The consensus among the commissioners and other county officials was that this seemingly heavy-handed response had been justified by Drumwright’s alleged violation of the permit that had allowed the marchers to gather on the grounds of the courthouse.
Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, noted that the conditions of Drumwright’s permit included a provision that prohibited the presence of gas cans or gas-powered generators on the grounds of the building.
“He appealed that,” the board’s vice chairman elaborated at Monday’s meeting, “and was told that there would be no authorization for a gasoline-containing generator or gasoline can. Then, he proceeded to bring [them]…He knew what he was doing when he brought them up there.”
Alamance County’s attorney Clyde Albright went on to confirm that Drumwright was well aware of the county’s expectations about the gas can and generator.
“We had an hour-long conversation with Reverend Drumwright and the ACLU attorney,” he said. “It was crystal clear, and he signed the permit.”
A bad aftertaste
The conversation about Drumwright’s permit followed a public comment period during which Alamance County’s clerk Tory Frink read emails from three residents who objected to the law enforcement response during Saturday’s demonstration.
One email from Douglas Carter of Oak Park, Illinois denounced the county’s law enforcement agencies as “a national disgrace” for having “gassed children and the elderly, arrested clergy and reporters, and blocked American citizens from exercising their franchise.”
Meanwhile, Clifton Carter, a participant in the event, shared his suspicion that law enforcement officials had consciously set up the debacle in front of the courthouse.
“As a combat veteran, I feel violated,” Carter wrote in his email, “because I realize now that I allowed my people to walk into an ambush…[It] was a tactical setup that allowed sheriff’s [deputies] and the Graham Police Department to choose when to pin down and fire on innocent people. We were slow to comply, but compliance took place. They chose the optimal time to strike.”
The commissioners also heard references to Saturday’s rally from two other residents who took advantage of Monday’s comment period to criticize a Confederate monument that has stood at the northern approach to the courthouse for the past 106 years.
Amy Jackson, who addressed the commissioners by phone, noted that this “monument to white supremacy stood guard” while “law enforcement officers used pepper spray against peaceful marchers, protesters, reporters, young children, and people with disabilities.” Meanwhile, Kani Adon Bynum of Greensboro insisted that the crowd control measures on Saturday underscore the threat to public safety that he said the monument poses.
“The monument has caused people to be assaulted, violently arrested, pepper sprayed and otherwise injured,” Bynum argued in his email to the commissioners. “The county and city Commissioners have the power to declare the monument a threat to public safety and remove it.”
Bynum was one of the 23 people arrested during Saturday’s demonstration – which in his case marked the second time he had been charged during a protest in Graham.
Defend the police
In response to the criticism of Saturday’s crowd control measures, Carter insisted that law enforcement officers were merely responding to a breach of trust on the part of the demonstration’s organizers.
“I’ve said it many times before,” Carter went on to interject, “that if people would just comply with the rules and regulations we would be having far less problems than we’re having right now.”
Carter also got sheriff Terry Johnson to confirm that law enforcement officers didn’t emerge entirely unscathed from Saturday’s events. Johnson recalled that a Graham police officer had been injured and one of his female deputies now has a blue arm from the bruising she suffered during the melee.
Johnson promised that he and his colleagues would “explain exactly what went on” at the demonstration during a news conference, which was slated to take place at 3:30 p.m. Meanwhile, commissioner Eddie Boswell recalled that Graham’s police department had already issued its own statement, which put the actions of its officers in a fairly positive light.
“They were doing their jobs, it seemed to me,” the commissioner said. “I don’t know where the discrepancy is with the people who are calling. They were doing what they were supposed to – keeping the road open.”
Johnson, for his part, went on to recommend “Mr. Tom Boney’s Facebook page” as an “independent” source of information about the demonstration.
“He printed it like it was,” the sheriff said.
All quiet on the voting front
Galey went on to elicit an acknowledgement from county manager Bryan Hagood that neither the demonstration or the subsequent law enforcement response appeared to have any impact on early voting at the county government’s annex, whose location at the corner of Maple and Harden streets is just one block from Court Square.