Graham protesters march for 'meaningful change' in the criminal justice system
Posted November 29, 2020 1:40 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2020 9:18 p.m. EST
Graham, N.C. — On Sunday afternoon, Protesters rallied in Graham to demand police and criminal justice reform. The crowd began gathering at 1 p.m. at the Children's Chapel Church, and marched for about three hours.
According to flyers, the rally was planned by groups Alamance Alliance for Justice and Justice 4 the Next Generation.
The groups are advocating for criminal justice reform and took their plea to the sheriff’s office, county detention center and Graham police headquarters. They also want Sheriff Terry Johnson and Graham Police Chief Kristy Cole to step down after officers used pepper spray last month to clear protesters from the street.
"Demanding that justice comes; that police brutality stops," explained attendee Spencer Blackwell.
Rev. Drumwright, one of the organizers for the march, also organized a March to the Polls in Graham just before election day, which gained national attention when Graham police and Alamance County sheriff deputies began pepper-spraying the crowd.
The Graham Police Department said they were aware of the demonstration and "welcome those who wish to attend."
"The Graham Police Department strongly supports our citizens’ rights to free speech, free assembly and public dissent," they said. "We look forward to a safe afternoon for all residents and visitors."
During a speech before the march began, Drumwright reminded protesters to remain peaceful and to not angrily engage with any counter-protesters.
"The only weapon we have is the one I am using right now: Our freedom of speech," he said.
After over two hours of marching, protesters gathered around the Confederate monument in Graham. Counter-protesters with Confederate flags could be seen watching from across the street.
At the Alamance County Courthouse, Drumwright said that "this is where innocent people have been convicted."
At the Courthouse Square, protesters were met about 25 people not involved with the event.
Thomas May said he showed up to protect downtown businesses from any damage and to support the sheriff.
“Sheriff Johnson, whether you agree with him or not, he does uphold the law and the constitution. He’s kept Alamance County safe," said Mays.
Some Black protesters could be seen holding passionate, but reasonably calm discussions with counter-protesters holding Confederate flags.
When one discussion began to become heated between political groups, other Black Lives Matter protesters approached and said, "We move in peace." They tried to de-escalate tensions between groups.
Officers stepped in at times to split up the verbal altercations.
"God bless," the groups said to each other, as they parted ways.
The crowds chanted 'Black Lives Matter,' while police guarded the statue and stood on the rooftop overhead.
Organizers said they believe their message of equality and justice were heard.
"I believe things can and will change," said Blackwell.
Alamance Alliance 4 Justice members said they planned to continue marching until they see “meaningful change in the criminal justice system.”