We at this newspaper didn’t start out trying to find flaws or shortcomings with Rev. Greg Drumwright of Greensboro.
We started simply by trying to cover him, the marches and rallies he led, and his actions, in order to provide comprehensive news coverage – with the same kind of fairness and thoroughness that our readers have come to expect.
We did not make up the facts.
We just reported them.
There’s the old line from the 1950’s & 1960’s TV series Dragnet, where detective Joe Friday, repeatedly uses the phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am.” That’s been the approach of our coverage with Drumwright just as it is throughout the weeks and years on other local issues.
And while some media not as familiar with our city or county have showered the activist with praise for his summer and fall marches, most haven’t looked beyond his rhetoric to what actually happened, especially at the second event, on October 31.
But that’s a fundamental part of our job at the local level.
For that event, Drumwright made commitments about how the Halloween day march in Graham would be handled. He promised, and his attorney confirmed to the city, that the marchers would clear the roadway after they had marched five blocks – and then conduct their rally at the courthouse (and on courthouse grounds, where Drumwright had obtained a permit). But when they stopped in front of the Confederate monument – ostensibly for an eight minute and 46-second tribute in memory of George Floyd – they did not proceed onto the courthouse grounds as had been agreed to beforehand by Drumwright.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this newspaper publisher’s question to Drumwright went unanswered at his press conference the day after the event was terminated and the crowd dispersed about whether he had agreed to the streets remaining open and, effectively, reneging on that pledge. His attorney advised him not to respond. But Drumwright was still arguing that the streets should have been closed even after having agreed to the city’s parameters that they would remain open.
“The streets belong to us,” he can be heard saying aloud while police are trying to clear the marchers after the George Floyd moment of silence before they resorted to using pepper spray, directed at the ground, to force the crowd out of the Main Street and Court Square roadways.
“Whose streets, our streets,” went the sing-song chant, drowning out police efforts to direct people out of the street.
Was the failure to get out of the street sufficient grounds for the police to use pepper spray? A question many can debate – and undoubtedly will.
But while some of his fellow marchers may not have understood why police resorted so quickly to what seemed to them to be impatient and excessive force, Drumwright knew what he had agreed to – even if he had not communicated it to his followers; and he knew he was reneging on it by allowing, even encouraging, the crowd to dawdle in the road.
And he may have chosen, deliberately, not to communicate the guidelines for the march because he knew he was going to try to violate them and entice his followers to do so, as well. Police say they had intercepted communications before Drumwright even set out that Saturday morning in which he was already telling people not to get out of the road.
But an equally serious failing, not as widely reported, was the use of a gas-powered generator to run his amplification system during the rally at the courthouse on October 31.
Two gas cans were observed by deputies, which prompted an inquiry as to why gas cans were brought to the rally in the first place. Gas cans at a mass gathering aren’t usually a sign of peace and tranquility.
The permit he had personally signed stated in black and white just above his signature that only a battery-powered generator could be used.
And, perhaps we should add that the prohibition was not something added to inconvenience Drumwright or impede his rally. Rather, it was a standard, stock provision on the permit form. It applies to anyone and everyone who seeks a permit to use the courthouse grounds for special events.
Are gas cans filled with gas dangerous? Did he know his sound equipment was going to be run by a gas-powered generator, rather than the battery-powered one he had promised to use? Was such a violation deliberate, or only inadvertent?
Needless to say, Drumwright prefers the fawning publicity that he helped craft that portrays himself and his followers as “innocent victims,” spontaneously pepper-sprayed and thereby oppressed by what he describes as harsh and unreasonable law enforcement agencies in Alamance County.
“I thought he had taken care of this,” was the verbiage of one supporter who can be heard on a video of the October 31 incident.
Well, he did “take care of this” – sort of. It’s just that he went back on his word – at least twice in connection with the Halloween march and rally: once to the Graham Police, violating the pledge to keep the streets open, and once to the Alamance County sheriff’s office by using a gas-powered generator which he knew to be prohibited.
The worst aspect of all of this is that his followers became merely expendable pawns in his schemes. They were the ones who were endangered by his reneging on his promises to the two law enforcement agencies.
What if, for instance, one of the gas cans had exploded? It was his supporters who were close to the gas and the generator. We’re quite sure he would, somehow, have tried to blame law enforcement, for his own violation of the terms of his use of the courthouse grounds.
So, is it really dangerous to be operating a gas-powered generator in a crowd?
Here are just a few of the generic warnings: don’t refuel a generator while it’s running (we’re not sure whether operators did that or not, but they clearly were prepared to do so by having the gas cans on hand); keep gas far away from “heat sources, such as the generator” (generators tend to become hot when operating, so avoid touching them); oh yes, and keep children (and pets) away from them. While we didn’t observe any pets at the rally, there were a few young children in fairly close proximity to the generator.
So, this newspaper also reported on the Graham Police Department’s press conference on Sunday, November 1, outlining their response during the incident; and we covered the sheriff’s department press conference the following day, which included some still shots of the gas cans, the generator, and of Drumwright trying to prevent deputies from taking them (they did and the gas and generator will be used as evidence), as well as a short video clip of the melee.
We also covered and reported on Drumwright’s own press conference on Sunday afternoon, November 1, which he held at the Tucker Street Apartments, where he grew up.
Because our printed newspaper does not come out until Thursday, as an interim measure, we included much of this coverage online, on Twitter and Facebook, including video excerpts of Drumwright, mayor Ian Baltutis, businesswoman Dionne Liles, as well as of the public information officer, Daniel Sisk, who conducted the Graham P.D. press conference.
And we’ve covered the sheriff’s subsequent decision – just this past week – to add two felony charges and two more misdemeanors to the misdemeanor charge that Drumwright received when he was arrested on October 31.
And we’ve reported on the critique from within the black community – from former NAACP president Michael Graves and national talk show host Jesse Lee Peterson – who disagree with Drumwright and his self-portrayal as a peaceful demonstrator.
We don’t quite see how it’s biased to report on what one black person says about another black person.
And in this edition, and earlier online, we’ve reported on his comments from the Thursday night meeting at Morgantown Baptist Church.
So we’re not quite sure what about this extensive coverage has so irked the organizer that he now wants to include our newspaper among his targets for retribution and boycott.
While we stick to the facts in our news coverage, we’re not shy to express our opinions on the editorial page.
And in that regard, we think a few things about the Rev. Drumwright have become increasingly obvious.
Unfortunately, Drumwright appears to be identifying with some predecessors in the movement where self-serving rhetoric dominates over substantive achievements.
As outlined above, and previously, on that score, we think Drumwright plays pretty fast and loose with the truth, failing to accept any responsibility for his words and actions, and attempting to cast blame on law enforcement and now, apparently, also on this newspaper.