Prior to his court hearing on Wednesday, the Rev. Greg Drumwright held a news conference to address the D.A.’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to attach additional conditions to a bond that he received on October 31. The news conference, which took place in front of the J.B. Allen, Jr. Criminal Courts Building in Graham, gave the Greensboro-based minister an opportunity to link his own legal case to the wider struggle for civil rights in the U.S.
“What they are trying to do in 2020 in Alamance County is the exact same thing that they were doing in Selma, Alabama in 1965,” Drumwright said amid the encouragement of a few dozen supporters who pressed around him during the news conference. “They are trying to use the trumped-up charge of violating a sign ordinance to suppress the voices of justice for the next generation.”
In addition to the titans of the Civil Rights era, Drumwright doffed his cap to people who’ve been involved in more recent actions, such as the voter registration drives that preceded November’s election or the demonstrations for police reform that followed the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The minister was particularly deferential to the demonstrators who were at his side on October 31, when he led a “march to the polls” through downtown Graham on the last day of early voting in North Carolina. The march, which had been permitted by both the Graham police department and the office of Alamance County’s sheriff, was followed by a rally in front of the county’s historic courthouse, which devolved into chaos after police used pepper spray in an alleged attempt to steer the marchers into the area designated for the event.
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Although 23 people, including Drumwright himself, were arrested in the ensuing upheaval, the minister zeroed in on a dozen individuals whom he dubbed “the Graham 12” as his compatriots in the fight against injustice.
“Even though we’re not in jail but we’re out on bond,” he added, “we’re still fighting for our freedom.”
The minister, who was born and raised in Alamance County, insisted that the added conditions which the D.A. had sought to attach to his own bond were ultimately an affront to each the 12 as well as anyone else who has fought for justice in his native county.
“This county’s officials are scheming to ban me from my own home town,” he added. “Alamance County, we’re not going to let this racist system stay standing. It’s going to come down.”
Drumwright’s remarks were echoed by Benjamin Lloyd Crump, a nationally-renowned civil rights lawyer who has joined the minister’s legal defense team. A native of Lumberton, Crump has risen to prominence for his role in various police brutality cases – including the lawsuits brought by family members of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and more recently, George Floyd.
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Crump insisted that the same institutional injustices he has observed in these other, more high-profile cases have also driven the criminal charges against Drumwright and the rest of the “Graham 12.” He also likened the arrests of these demonstrators to the adversity that confronted civil rights activists in the 1950s and 60s. Crump told the audience at Wednesday’s news conference that he had shared this same comparison with the pilot who had flown him to North Carolina for Drumwright’s hearing.
“I told him that I was going to Graham, North Carolina to show America what voter suppression looks like in 2020,” the minister’s lawyer recalled. “Whatever happens [during the hearing] at 2:00,” he added, “we want you to know that this will go further than Alamance County.”