Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Commissioners’ meeting ends with arrests of 5 protesters

A change of venue to the county’s historic courthouse didn’t spare Alamance County’s commissioners from the ire of protesters who’ve repeatedly dogged their steps since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year.

These demonstrators, who claim to espouse the causes of racial equity and police reform, ultimately raised more commotion than any actual awareness when they gathered outside the courthouse on Monday while the commissioners were meeting inside the building. A number of the protesters eventually wheedled their way into the meeting, and they generally held their peace until the commissioners abruptly stopped the proceedings, sparking a hubbub that ended with three demonstrators in handcuffs. Two other protesters were subsequently arrested when they allegedly refused to leave the grounds of Alamance County’s jail as their comrades were being booked in the facility.

Clifton Carter tries to get Regis DeShon Green to calm down and move along during county commissioners’ meeting. Green was ultimately one of five people arrested in conjunction with the protest at the meeting.

The demonstration that gave way to this chaotic scene was reportedly organized by Alamance Alliance 4 Justice and Forward Motion Alamance. These two groups originally sprung up earlier this year amid the national protests that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Their focus has nevertheless been on parochial concerns, like the close working relationship between Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson and federal immigration authorities as well as the proposed removal of a Confederate monument that has stood at the north entrance to the historic courthouse for more than a century.

According to the office of Alamance County’s sheriff, these two organizations mobilized about 30 to 35 people for a “Power to the People” rally that coincided with Monday’s meeting of the county commissioners. Several similar rallies erupted earlier this year when the commissioners convened inside their usual meeting chambers on the second floor of the county’s headquarters, which is located a block from the courthouse at 124 West Elm Street. Although these demonstrations were confined to the sidewalk in front of the building, the cacophony they raised repeatedly overwhelmed the proceedings within, although the nuisance abated as the rallies began petering out ahead of November’s general election.

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A more enduring locus for protests has been the courthouse itself, where the presence of the county’s Confederate monument has been a persistent irritant for many racial justice crusaders. Yet, it was, ironically, a desire to facilitate public participation that had prompted the county’s governing board to commandeer this historic edifice on Monday.

The commissioners ditched their usual venue that evening for the comparative spaciousness of the building’s main courtroom in order to accommodate the anticipated turnout at two public hearings unrelated to Monday’s demonstration. In the end, the only member of the public who addressed the commissioners in person during these hearings was a former candidate for the board of commissioners. Meanwhile, the courtroom’s permeable walls did little to dampen the noise from the rally, which included sing-song chants and a novelty alarm that mimicked a police siren.

About an hour and a half into Monday night’s meeting, deputies who were stationed outside the courthouse agreed to let some of the demonstrators into the building’s main courtroom, where the commissioners were convened. According to the sheriff’s office, “approximately 10 of the protesters were allowed inside.” These newly-admitted audience members soon settled down despite some hostile interactions with the sheriff’s deputies inside the courtroom.

The meeting proceeded relatively calmly for the next half hour or so when Amy Scott Galey, the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, suddenly announced the she and her colleagues would be in recess until Wednesday. The commissioners convened a “virtual” session that morning to dispense with the remainder of their agenda from Monday.

After she had declared the commissioners in recess, Galey ignored questions from audience members about the fate of a public comment period that ordinarily rounds out each regular, semi-monthly meeting of the county’s governing board. These inquires grew increasingly strident until a tumult at the courtroom’s main exit sent audience members and deputies scrambling in that direction.

Deputy chief Cliff Parker, with the Alamance County Sheriff’s office, was present during the meeting and tried to keep protesters from being disruptive.

According to the sheriff’s office, this uproar occurred when “the protesters became disruptive and were asked to leave” the courtroom. The sheriff’s office also acknowledged that three individuals were arrested during the stir.

The three demonstrators who wound up in custody have been identified as Regis Kishon Green, a 28-year-old black male of 4600 University Drive in Durham;

Travis Scott Laughlin, a 47-year-old white male of 1111 McCormick Street in Greensboro;

and Anne Elizabeth Williams, a 55-year-old white female of 3249 Henderson Field Road in Mebane.

Each of these three individuals has been charged with the misdemeanor offenses of disrupting an official meeting, resisting a public officer, and disorderly conduct within a public building.

The arrest warrants for these three suspects offer identically-worded accounts of their alleged disorderly conduct. In each case, the warrant accuses the suspect of “interrupting a public meeting,” as well as “failing to heed the commands of law enforcement officers who were emptying the courtroom” from a “meeting that had been adjourned.”

According to the sheriff’s office, Williams and Laughlin have since been released on a written promise to appear in court, while Green has been placed under a $300 bond.

Shortly after these three arrests, the sheriff’s office detained two other individuals when they allegedly refused to leave the parking lot of the county jail. The agency has identified these additional suspects as Kristofer Wayne Loy, a 26-year-old white male of 514 East Harden Street in Graham;

and Carey Kirk Griffin, a 38-year-old white female of 2117 East Main Street in Durham.

According to the sheriff’s office, Griffin and Loy face misdemeanor charges of second-degree trespassing and resisting a public officer. Each has since been released on a written promise to appear in court.

The deferred public comment period which had precipitated Monday’s alleged mayhem ultimately took place over the Internet when the commissioners reconvened on Wednesday.

During that morning’s virtual session, the commissioners invited each of the five speakers who had signed up for Monday’s comment period to address them either in writing or over the phone.

The four speakers who availed themselves of this opportunity expressed a common concern for racial justice, with particular emphasis on the county’s Confederate monument or the law enforcement response to public demonstrations. Both of these themes were evident in the remarks of Clifton Carter, a veteran of several recent protests who was also on hand during Monday’s tumultuous meeting.

Carter ultimately delivered a lengthy philippic against the Confederate monument, which Galey allowed to continue well beyond the speaker’s three-minute allotment. The board’s chairman went on to explain her uncharacteristic lenience when she finally broke into Carter’s speech.

“Under the circumstances, especially arising from the confusion on Monday night,” she told the public speaker, “I have really tried to be as generous as possible in extending your time.”

Carter, for his part, was gracious in accepting the chairman’s apparent admission that the commissioners could’ve handled things better on Monday.

“I really appreciate the extra time,” he told Galey, “and I feel sorry for everyone for what happened on Monday.”




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