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Graham rally organizer plans march on Election Day
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Graham rally organizer plans march on Election Day

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GRAHAM — The Greensboro organizer of a get-out-the-vote rally in Alamance County that ended with police releasing a pepper-spray fog and arresting participants is planning another march on Election Day.

The Rev. Greg Drumwright said at a news conference Sunday that he's planning a large demonstration on Election Day in Graham and condemned how police responded to Saturday's event. Drumwright, a Burlington native, leads the Citadel Church in Greensboro.

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

Drumwright said in a news conference Sunday posted on YouTube that demonstrators will march in Graham again on Tuesday at about 9 a.m. “We’ll be coming in even stronger,” he said.

At another news conference Sunday posted on YouTube, Graham police Lt. Daniel Sisk said that near the conclusion of Saturday's rally sheriff's deputies "had interaction with people in the rally that led to people coming out into the street. When we tried to prevent people from being in the street, one of our officers was assaulted.

"At that pointed we deemed it was an unsafe event and deemed it was unlawful and went ahead and dispersed the crowd," Sisk said. Officers used pepper-spray foggers that were directed toward the ground and created a vapor irritant, he said.

Rally participants were arrested because they were blocking the roadway without authorization, police said. Other charges included resist, delay and obstruct and assault on a law enforcement officer, Sisk said.

Police also said attendees paused in the roadway for about nine minutes, creating traffic back ups “in all directions around court square."

At one point, the marchers held a moment of silence in the street in honor of George Floyd, the Black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this summer.

George Floyd's niece was slated to speak at the event, but the speeches were disrupted before she got a chance at the microphone.

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After the moment of silence concluded, law enforcement told people to clear the road. Police said Saturday they issued several warnings to the crowd at Alamance County’s courthouse to move from the roadway before releasing using the pepper-spray foggers and later arresting eight people. Police said they gave the crowd a five-minute warning to leave the roadway.

A press release from the department said the march organized by Drumwright didn't have permission to block traffic. Drumwright initially asked police and the Alamance County Sheriff's Office if authorities could block the roadway for the rally members, but that request was never completed because Drumwright “missed the deadline," Graham police said.

The “I Am Change” march to the polls was organized by Drumwright and began as a march from a local church to the courthouse.

Drumwright said the group was permitted to stand in the courthouse square and was escorted through the streets by the police. He also said that the group had “no intention” of having the rally in the street.

A nearby polling site was accessible "by four to five other places that ... constituents here in Alamance County could have driven into," Drumwright said in Sunday's speech.

"And, we understand that while our march was going on there were people that were held back from being able to leave our march and proceed down to the poll," 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 state 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.”

“Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated,” Cooper said on twitter.

A Confederate monument outside the Alamance County courthouse has been a local target for demonstrations since the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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