This newspaper has interviewed Rev. Gregory Drumwright on several occasions – most notably twice prior to his Halloween march in Graham.
We have gone to great lengths to provide fair and thorough coverage of his plans, as well as of other demonstrations in and around Graham’s downtown this year.
But we cannot overlook obvious flaws which we’ve observed firsthand from his latest visits this past weekend.
He is, undoubtedly, a dynamic figure who is both charismatic and a rousing speaker, in the best tradition of black preachers, especially in the South.
He clearly sees himself as a future leader, which is a more polite way of saying he also appears to crave being the center of attention.
And even that’s okay.
But this week, he did damage to his reputation as a civil rights leader, but more importantly attempted to deceive those who have placed great confidence in him.
He claimed, repeatedly during his press conference on Sunday, that he and his fellow marchers had been treated harshly and unfairly during the Halloween day march and demonstration at the courthouse in downtown Graham on Saturday.
He repeatedly asked a question during his press conference: “What did he do,” he wanted to know, to deserve the kind of treatment he and his fellow marchers had received at the hands of law enforcement on Saturday.
“What was different,” he wanted to know about this march and rally versus a previous one held on July 11, which was largely without incident.
What was different, from the perspective of both law enforcement agencies was Drumwright’s deliberate, apparently intentional, decision not to comply with two separate agreements he had made with authorities.
Despite repeated and firm declarations from city of Graham officials and the police department that no roads would be permanently closed in order to accommodate his march and rally, Drumwright apparently intended to violate that agreement from the moment he set out from Wayman’s Chapel on the five-block march to the courthouse.
The police provided an escort as North Main Street was closed as the marchers passed – and reopened after they had passed.
Graham police say they monitored a social media post from Drumwright, made from Wayman’s Chapel as the march began, telling those same participants he intended to block and close the roadway.
Graham police had informed Drumwright that had missed the deadline to get his requested street closure on the agenda for consideration by the city council at its October 13 meeting, under a state law that requiring council and NCDOT approval. Though then-interim police chief Kristy Cole did not note it in an October 12 email exchange with Drumwright, he had been among the eight individual plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this summer that led to the repeal of a city ordinance, which had previously allowed road closures without council and DOT approval.
So when Drumwright stopped for four to five minutes, blocking the intersection of North Main and Harden streets, they must have been irritated. Certainly the drivers who couldn’t proceed to cross Main Street were – and understandably so.
Drumwright could have held his memorial to Wyatt Outlaw (the purpose for the Harden Street stop) a bit before the intersection, or a bit after, but instead deliberately inconvenienced drivers by stopping all traffic.
Similarly, when he got to the courthouse, he asked his fellow marchers to observe an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence in the roadway in front of the Confederate monument.
Again, all traffic around the north side of Court Square was stopped.
It appears that a gambit Drumwright’s associates had tried the previous night in Greensboro was also employed in Graham, with a truck and generator attempting to block the then-vacant portion of Court Square, to further impede vehicular traffic around the circle.
More evidence of his intent was the very fact that the stage and sound equipment had not been put up prior to his arrival.
The city was expecting that all the logistic preliminaries would be undertaken before the march was to begin at 11:00 a.m.
Instead, the crews were arriving in a U-Haul truck and another pick-up truck with the generator at a little before 12:00 noon.
Graham police believed, and we’d have to concur with their conclusion that the evidence supports, the fact that Drumwright had no intention of complying with the requirement to allow traffic to keep flowing.
The further evidence of that intention is his statement the following day, still objecting to the city’s requirement that the roads should remain open – even though he and his lawyer had agreed to those very terms.
The most diplomatic expression is that Drumwright did not act in good faith in his discussions with the city and police department.
But even far worse was Drumwright’s apparently deliberate attempt to violate the terms of his written agreement with the sheriff’s department.
The “facility use agreement” that Drumwright signed to reserve the courthouse grounds on October 31 included the specific provision that no electric (or thus gas-powered) generator was to be used on courthouse grounds, but only battery-powered ones.
The subsequent discovery of two gas cans and the gas-powered generator was the “final straw,” as it were, for law enforcement, who then believed, understandably, that Drumwright was willfully violating his agreement with the sheriff, in addition to having already demonstrated a violation of his promises to the city to allow the roads to remain open.
Why he would have chosen deceit in place of honesty and violations of his word in place of compliance with his own written guarantees is anyone’s guess.
But these factors provided law enforcement with more than enough evidence of differences between Drumwright’s July 11 march and rally with several hundred people versus Saturday’s, with between 125 to 150, to warrant very different treatment.
Most astounding is that the effect of Drumwright’s violation on the courthouse grounds was to most endanger his own supporters. As those closest to the gasoline can and the gas-powered generator, they would be those most likely to be injured had any sort of catastrophic accident occurred.