The Graham police department has released emails that confirm its claim of having worked extensively with a Greensboro pastor throughout much of last month to ensure that his “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” in downtown Graham went smoothly (see related story, this edition).
Drumwright initially contacted Graham city officials about closing streets in the area of Court Square on October 9, which was four days prior to the city council’s scheduled monthly meeting and several days after the meeting agenda was prepared, based on emails that the Graham police department released this week.
Graham police chief Kristy Cole, then-interim chief, and other officials with her department met online and in-person with Drumwright on numerous occasions throughout much of October to assist with planning his march in Graham on Halloween day, Graham police Lt. Daniel Sisk said during a press conference Sunday morning.
In a series of email exchanges and meetings with Drumwright, Cole explained that the city was unable to accommodate his request to close the streets in downtown because he had missed the deadline to have his request placed on the agenda for the city council’s meeting on October 13.
Cole also accompanied Drumwright to the Alamance County sheriff’s office on October 20 to apply for a permit to reserve the county-owned courthouse property for the rally held last Saturday afternoon, based on emails that the Graham police department provided this week.
Drumwright, for his part, questioned the process for requesting the road closure in an October 12 email to Cole, which noted that he had not required the council’s approval to close roads for another march he held in downtown Graham on July 11 of this year.
Cole wrote in an email response to Drumwright that a city ordinance that had been in place in July had since been repealed, requiring approval of the requested road closure by the city council and state Department of Transportation, in keeping with state law. Though Cole did not note it in her October 12 email response, the city’s parade permit ordinance was repealed as a result of a lawsuit that Drumwright and several other plaintiffs filed this summer, challenging it as a violation of their constitutional rights.
At no point during the ongoing discussions with Drumwright – via email and online and in-person meetings – did Cole or other Graham city officials waver on their decision that roads in downtown Graham would remain open.
Instead, Cole offered five potential alternative routes for his “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls,” the emails reveal. Each of the five alternative routes shared a common starting point (Wayman’s Chapel AME Church at 592 North Main Street), as well as a requirement that participants would not walk or gather in any public street or interfere with business operations in the city. Each of the five alternative routes also suggested a possible midpoint – in most cases, one of the city-owned parking lots in downtown Graham – at which participants could regroup before continuing on to the rally at the courthouse.
Drumwright originally envisioned a second leg of the march that would’ve culminated at the County Annex Building at 201 West Elm Street, which had been set up as an early voting site, but was unable to secure permission to close city-owned streets for that aspect of his event.
He nonetheless posted a message online Saturday morning, stating that the streets in downtown Graham would be closed during his march, based on the account that Sisk outlined during the press conference. As such, streets in the city’s historic downtown business district remained open to vehicular traffic for the duration of Drumwright’s march and rally in Graham on Saturday.
Drumwright had also planned to erect a small stage in the roadway in Court Square, as he had tried to do the night before, on October 30, for a similar march in Greensboro. Police in both cities prevented him from doing so. On Friday night, Greensboro police prevented Drumwright from erecting a stage in the roadway near the city government plaza at 110 South Greene Street, which was followed by a march to an early voting site at Dudley Hall, on the west side of the campus of N.C. A&T University in Greensboro, where Drumwright ultimately set up his stage for a rally Friday night.
Greensboro police officials notified their counterparts in Graham that he might also attempt to erect a stage in the street in the historic downtown business district on Saturday, Graham police Lt. Duane Flood recalled this week.
In addition to the potential hazard it might pose for motorists traveling through Court Square, Graham police objected to allowing Drumwright to erect his stage in the middle of a roadway and closing off the street because of the proximity to an early voting site at 201 West Elm Street, Flood explained to an Alamance News reporter Wednesday. “It would’ve required a substantial closure of parking and hindered people [trying] to get to early voting downtown,” he said. “The decision was made by the police department that we didn’t want to restrict parking or hinder people’s ability to get to the polls.”
In a subsequent email exchange with Drumwright and his attorney, whom the pastor had begun including in his correspondence with city officials early last month, Graham city manager Frankie Maness elaborated on the potential safety hazard posed by the requested street closure.
“Based on the attendee information provided by Mr. Drumwright, a determination was made that a street closure is not required as a public safety measure,” Maness wrote in an October 30 email to Drumwright and attorney Elizabeth Haddix. [Drumwright initially estimated that as many as 1,000 people might participate in his march in downtown Graham.] Crowd estimates put the actual number of participants on Saturday between 125 to 150 people. “In this case, unnecessary closure of the subject streets causes first responders to take alternative routes to the densely populated northern part of the city, adding to general public safety concerns,” Maness explained in his email to Haddix.
“As you know, in certain emergency situations every second matters and alternative routes are not the primary routes for a reason,” the city manager wrote. “Also, if roads are closed, it further compromises the ability of our first responders, as they (and their vehicles) become traffic control attendants rather than focusing on their primary public safety duties…. Closure of streets is further complicated by the fact that the one stop voting poll is only about 500 [feet] away from the historic courthouse. Closure of the northern half of Court Square in effect forces limited access to the 100 block of North Main Street and the 100 blocks of Elm Street (and a one-way condition). This would then put the impact within a matter of feet from the poll. Everyone on this email [exchange] knows the added layer of law surrounding elections and the city does not want to restrict anyone’s access to the polls.”
Graham police did close the city sidewalks around the northwest side of the courthouse after marchers were instructed to disperse Saturday afternoon, preventing pedestrians from using the sidewalk along West Elm Street to get to the polling site. Instead, pedestrians were instructed to use the sidewalk on North Main Street to get to the polling site and other locations along West Elm Street.
Haddix notified Cole, Maness, and other city officials the morning of the march that Drumwright had reluctantly accepted the city’s decision.
“We expect the GPD and ACSO to intervene if necessary to remove counter demonstrators from the permitted area during that time” for which he had reserved the courthouse grounds, from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Saturday, based on the email that Haddix sent Cole and other Graham city officials at 10:45 a.m. last Saturday. “Counter demonstrators may be within ear range, but at a far enough distance so that they do not interfere with or obstruct Rev. Drumwright’s message or the message of any other speakers he has at this event.
“Which also means that if there is traffic around that circle interfering with the message, either with shouting or flags or other disruptive activities, we expect GPD to do something about that,” wrote Haddix, who is with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
During a press conference in Burlington Sunday afternoon, Drumwright continued to insist that the streets should have been closed. “I do not know why they were intent to create a public hazard by having cars circling the courthouse” while his rally was going on, he said Sunday.
Drumwright declined, at his attorney’s advice, Sunday afternoon to answer a question from The Alamance News about whether he had, in fact, agreed to the city’s plan to keep the roadways open once marchers had passed.