On Saturday, local police officers pepper-sprayed a group of demonstrators who were participating in a peaceful march to the polls in Graham, North Carolina, which is about an hour outside of the state capital of Raleigh. The demonstrators who were pepper-sprayed included at least three children, all of whom threw up after getting included in the targets of the police attack, according to their families. The “I Am Change” march was organized by Rev. Greg Drumwright (whose church is in Greensboro, which is about half an hour away from Graham), and originally, the participants had a police escort. Then, when once cops claim that the “assembly reached a level of conduct that led to the rally being deemed unsafe and unlawful,” officers attacked the demonstrators.
The event was not impromptu. Burlington, North Carolina’s current mayor, Ian Baltutis, participated in the proceedings, as did local Democratic candidates Dreama Caldwell and Seneca Rodgers. The niece of George Floyd — a black man who was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis earlier this year — was also scheduled to speak at the event, but police cut the proceedings short before she had a chance to share her thoughts.
Before the cops moved in, the event participants held a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd. After the moment of silence, cops who were on the scene “told people to clear the road” and “used pepper spray on the crowd and began arresting people,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer. A local woman named Melanie Mitchell told the publication that her 5-year-old and 11-year-old daughters were among those affected by the cops’ pepper spray, and both of them apparently vomited. Mitchell said that her 11-year-old daughter was “terrified” by the cops’ actions and “doesn’t want to come down to Graham anymore.”
After the initial round of attacks on the crowd from police, those who were still present on the scene moved to outside the local courthouse, where speakers began to share their thoughts with the crowd. Before the speeches concluded, law enforcement officers began forcefully dismantling the speaking equipment in use, and the officers “again used pepper spray to force people off the courthouse property,” according to the News & Observer. A local woman named Veronica Holman said that her 3-year-old great-nephew was among those affected by the pepper-spray that was deployed outside of the courthouse, and this child apparently also threw up after the encounter with police. Holman said that the officers “didn’t warn us or anything.” She and her great-nephew “were just sitting on the wall” across the street from the courthouse, she said.
Across the event as a whole, there were at least a dozen arrests, including a local reporter and the campaign manager for one of the local Democratic candidates who’d participated in the event. A local woman named Faith Cook, who participated in the event and made it to the polling place that the marchers had originally been moving towards, suggested that the police violence against the demonstrators could have been premeditated. She commented:
‘I’ve never experienced anything like that. Nobody should have to. I think it was their intention, from the moment this march was announced, that we don’t get to the polls in numbers.’
As outrage mounts, Americans are continuing to work to make their voices heard at the ballot box across the country.