The Halloween march and rally that was broken up by law enforcement using pepper spray after rally participants brought two gasoline cans and a gas-powered generator onto courthouse grounds has now resulted in additional, more serious charges against the demonstration’s organizer, Rev. Gregory Drumwright of Greensboro.
Drumwright and 21 other protesters, plus one of this newspaper’s reporters, were arrested by Graham police and Alamance County sheriff’s officers during and following the rally held on Saturday, October 31 in Graham.
Sheriff’s deputies broke up the rally, which was being held in front of the Alamance County courthouse based on a permit Drumwright had obtained through sheriff Terry Johnson. However, when officials discovered that Drumwright’s supporters had brought the gas cans and a generator onto county property, when those were explicitly prohibited by the permit Drumwright had signed, they stated that the event was over and ordered the crowd to disperse.
When they refused, deputies – and later Graham police – used pepper spray to force the crowd to leave the courthouse grounds and the downtown area. Graham police had earlier also used pepper spray to force demonstrators out of the road around Court Square, which was supposed to remain open to traffic, based on criteria the police had outlined to Drumwright and to which, they insist, he had agreed.
Drumwright was initially charged with misdemeanor failure to disperse after law enforcement instructed him to leave the property, after learning he had violated the facilities use agreement he had signed to use the courthouse grounds for his rally on Halloween day.
The new charges filed Wednesday include: felony obstruction of justice and felony assault on an officer, plus additional misdemeanor charges for inciting a riot and resisting, obstructing, and delaying a law enforcement officer.
Sheriff Terry Johnson said in an interview that the new charges were filed based on a “long and intensive investigation and in consultation with the district attorney’s office.”
Johnson and other top law enforcement officials pointed to videos from the day of the episode which they say show Drumwright instigating the confrontation with a sheriff’s deputy who was pushed to the ground.
Drumwright was also belligerent, they say, in refusing to disperse and telling his followers to refuse to disperse, as well.
The sheriff’s office first showed one of the videos during a press conference on November 2, the Monday following the Saturday incident, in an attempt to explain why law enforcement had resorted to the use of the pepper spray to attempt to scatter the crowd of about 125 to 150 who had assembled in front of the courthouse after a five-block march from Wayman’s Chapel A.M.E. Church on North Main Street.
Johnson, chief deputy Cliff Parker, and sheriff’s office major Jackie Fortner explained in a joint interview with the newspaper, that the videos had been carefully studied, with the events examined from various angles, before the new charges were filed against Drumwright on Wednesday.
Johnson said he had advised Drumwright by phone Wednesday of the new charges, and was attempting to coordinate with Drumwright to turn himself in on the four new charges.
Drumwright declares ‘state of emergency’ in Graham
Drumwright convened a “Facebook live” discussion Monday night, after five of his supporters and “allies” were arrested following a meeting of the Alamance County commissioners Monday night (see related story, this edition). During his online meeting, Drumwright asked his supporters and members of his group, Justice 4 the Next Generation, to attend a meeting at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Morgantown Baptist Church in Burlington, where he said he would announce the date and time for another upcoming march in Graham.
“The Alamance County sheriff’s office has done again what they do to black people and white allies – they have arrested multiple people that were there asking for an opportunity to give comment at a commissioners meeting,” he told the group Monday night. At the start of the discussion, Drumwright said he was convening the online meeting from a hotel room in Houston, Texas, but would be flying back to Alamance County for the meeting planned in Burlington, where he would announce the date and time for another march in Graham.
“I am declaring a state of emergency,” Drumwright told the group. “This is not going to go unaddressed in the justice community.
“I understand that people who were there were thrown on the ground, bashed in the head, brutally arrested, needing medical attention,” Drumwright said, which he based on accounts from several people who had attended the commissioners’ meeting earlier that night and later joined the online discussion. “What’s happening in Alamance County is an atrocity.”
The Alamance News could find no evidence to support Drumwright’s allegations, and law enforcement officials said no one required medical attention.
Joining Drumwright for the online discussion were Kani Adon Bynum of Greensboro, whom the pastor referred to as “Kani Adon”; Quenclyn Ellison, who previously identified herself as a member of Alamance Alliance for Justice during a press conference that Drumwright held October 14 to announce his Halloween march; and another supporter who identified herself during the online meeting as Ann Jones.
Bynum said he and another person who attended the commissioners’ meeting with him had worn bulletproof vests, which one officer had said they could keep on but another officer instructed them to remove. There was also confusion about where they could sit inside the superior courtroom where the commissioners had convened for two public hearings, as well as their regular semi-monthly agenda meeting. “It was really difficult to get there,” Bynum told Drumwright during the online discussion.
Sheriff’s deputies told The Alamance News that seats were marked and spaced six feet apart, to indicate where attendees should sit to maintain social distancing guidelines that remain in effect due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Noting that “another one of our allies,” Carey Griffin of Mebane, had been arrested earlier Monday night, Drumwright told his group on Facebook Live, “We’re not having it. “Let me tell you something: we are bringing change.
‘This is my prophetic decree’
“We’re past ready,” Drumwright said, his supporters growing louder and more excited. “We’re going to tear Satan’s kingdom down. We’re going to tear this kingdom of darkness and white supremacy and racial oppression down. You will not keep locking up our sons and daughters to mess up their criminal record; to offer them a criminal record; to give them a criminal record. You’re not going to continue to detain peaceful organizers and peaceful protesters without being accountable for it. Let me tell you something, we’re going to be there. The justice crew is going to be there on Thursday. We need the whole church packed. I know a lot of people are concerned about being in-person – bring a mask, bring two masks. But we need to see your face because we’ve got to be careful about who’s on a virtual call.
“We are going to bring change,” Drumwright added, growing louder and more rhythmic with each pronouncement before he concluded the nearly hour-long discussion with a prayer. “We’re not coming with weapons; we’re not coming with violence; we’re not coming with destruction – we’re coming with the power of God on our side; we’re coming with the power of the people. Hundreds of people have been [emailing] me asking ‘what’s next?’ You’re about to find out.”