The “I am Change” march that was held in Graham, North Carolina, was disrupted by the police, who even went on to use pepper spray in the peaceful demonstration.
The event ended with many people getting injured, and several of them were arrested. A similar march was held by the organizers in Greensboro, North Carolina, a day before. However, no untoward incident happened during that march, and police were not aggressive just a day before this march in Graham.
As law enforcement issued a dispersal order during the demonstration, Rev. Gregory Drumwright, who organized these marches, said that the police had created chaos, and the demonstrators had every legal right to occupy the ground till 2 pm on Saturday.
The march was a get-out-the-vote event that was intended to bring participants from Wayman Chapel AME church to Graham’s Court Square. At Court Square, several activists, including the family members of George Floyd, were supposed to speak. After that, the march was supposed to continue towards the Grahams’ voting precinct that was ending at 3 pm on Saturday.
According to demonstrators who attended the event, they had a moment of silence for George Floyd and were later told by the police to get off the street. Soon after, they started using pepper spray on the demonstrators and did not even spare kids. As a breeze was flowing at that time, the spray-spread all over the place, and it became a complete mess.
According to the official statement of the police department, they said those police officials resorted to using crowd control measures only after the crowd failed to respond to their pleas regarding vacating the place. The crowd control measure included spraying a pepper-based vapor onto the ground. However, several videos that are emerging on social media tell a different story.
Local attorney Jamie Paulen said that the demonstrators were peaceful, and one of the officers had attacked a woman who had come on an electric scooter. The lady on the scooter was having a seizure after she got sprayed and was convulsing. When the crowd tried to reach the police for help, it was not available.
According to a statement released by the vice president for student life at Elon University, Jon Dooley, five student journalists were also affected due to the pepper-sprayed at that event and two of them were also arrested by the police.
Dream Caldwell, who is a candidate for county commissioner, also shared a similar story. As she was planning to meet the marchers, she was watching the event on Facebook live and shocked to see some children crying due to police aggression. When she tried to help the children, she was stopped by officers and told that she could be arrested as the rally was an unlawful assembly. She later said that her campaign manager Rion Thompson had been arrested, and she was not able to bail him out.
A speaker at the march said that many people missed their chance to register and vote due to the chaos. She added that police officers put on gas masks and pushed people into the people spray. Many protestors felt frustrated as this was another way of voter suppression.
A senior citizen who witnessed the march compared it to the civil rights movement of their time. She was also pushed around by the police until some young people came to her rescue. She said that she was happy to see so many young people coming out to fight for their rights.
On the other hand, police said that they had to make way for traffic, and that is the reason they had to control the crowd. The first half of the march went on peacefully till police started attacking demonstrators as they reached Alamance County Courthouse. However, the organizer Drumwright was allowed to continue the event even after the police pepper-sprayed the audience.
Some protestors believe that the police deliberately acted with force as they can cause chaos, and this can lead to arrests. They suddenly became aggressive and gave the demonstrators just a few minutes’ time to move away from the stage area. However, Drumwright said that they had permission till 2 pm to stay at that place.
Later, Drumwright and other activists were arrested by the police. However, the department had not released the names and charges of the other protestors arrested at the event. This is not an isolated incident, as several such incidents have happened in recent months.
The issue of using force on peaceful demonstrators is a burning topic, and many police officials are not concerned with the public anger in this regard. There is no point in acting violently on peaceful demonstrators as this will only ignite violent protests at a later stage.
In some cases, such aggression by the police has resulted in serious chaos, and several innocent civilians got injured due to the use of pepper spray and rubber bullets. The federal government does not do much in this regard, and there is no national law in this regard about using such aggressive weapons on civilians. There are other methods to handle crowds, and the police officials need to deal with them in a sensitive manner so that the situation does not go out of hand.
In recent weeks, it was also seen that police officers were concealing their identities while dealing with such crowds as they feared backlash from the public for their violent actions. In some cases, police officers went beyond control and used rubber bullets to disperse crowds. This is expected to happen even in the future as elections are nearing and many such protests will rock the nation.
It is now up to the participants to stay alert to such situations and keep their family and children away from the protests. As there is no guarantee that police will not attack a peaceful demonstration, it is a good idea to keep young children away from such demonstrations. The police department is in no mood to learn from their previous mistakes and continue to use unwarranted force on civilians.