State News

Jubilant crowd celebrates Election Day at Graham courthouse rally

Posted November 1, 2020 3:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 3, 2020 7:56 p.m. EST

— The organizer of a get-out-the-vote rally in Graham that ended with police pepper-spraying and arresting participants on Saturday led another march on Election Day.

The bulk of the event, which attracted hundreds of participants and about two dozen counterprotesters, was peaceful.

"Today is about getting people to the polls, and today is also about praying about what happened and coming together to say we are a community that is committed to what we started on Saturday," said Rev. Gwendalyn Benjamin.

The group met at 3 p.m. at Wayman Chapel AME Church on Main Street for prayer. Rev. Greg Drumwright addressed the crowd just after 4 p.m., praising the community spirit that brought them out.

As the sun set, hundreds of people came to a stop outside the courthouse, cheering, chanting and singing.

There was a brief clash between the two groups. Both Confederate flags and Black Lives Matter flags were in evidence, and at one point a Black Lives Matter flag was pulled down and stomped, prompting police to separate the groups.

Tuesday's rally was the latest in Graham, site of a series of clashes over a Confederate monument over the summer.

The trouble started on Saturday in the small Alamance County town drew national attention after a peaceful march ended with pepper spray.

Two very different versions of events have emerged. Organizers of the march say the use of force was excessive. Meanwhile, the Graham Police Department and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office say officers were keeping the area safe for the roughly 200 people in attendance and others in the area.

Twenty-three people were arrested, most of them charged with failure to disperse, a misdemeanor.

“We were beaten, but we're not going to be broken,” Drumwright said.

Lindsay Ayling, a graduate student and anti-racism activist who participated in the rally, told The Associated Press police used tear gas indiscriminately and without reason on the crowd, including on children.

“The police were looking for excuses to use pepper spray and arrest members of the crowd," she said.

Saturday was the last day to vote early in North Carolina, a key battleground President Donald Trump needs to win to boost his prospects of defeating Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called the incident “unacceptable.”

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