Police officers have defended the actions of their subordinates, claiming demonstrators “attacked” at least one officer.
Two federal lawsuits target North Carolina after I Am Change protesters were sprayed with pepper spray outside a polling station.
According to CNN, one of the two lawsuits was filed by the NAACP on behalf of protesters. In the complaint, lawyers say the persistent response from law enforcement agencies led protesters to “[suffer] Harm. “It also challenges the use of force – and alleged intimidation – by the city of Graham, North Carolina, as well as Alamance County.
“Defendants,” the lawsuit says, “prevented the North Carolinians from protesting peacefully and from casting their vote free of intimidation, threats, harassment and coercion.”
The second lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina in association with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of individual protesters – including Rev. Gregory Drumwright, who organized the march – alleges that the Graham Police and Alamance County MPs acted to create “a peaceful gathering to express Purpose of encouragement gathered, oppressed and forcibly dispersed people to choose. “
“The police violence in Graham, North Carolina over the weekend against a group of peaceful and mostly black protesters is another clear violation of freedom of expression and the right to vote,” said Kristen Clerke, executive director of LCCRUL.
CNN asked both law enforcement agencies to comment.
In response, Graham Police Department officials said they used pepper spray twice: once to remove protesters from a street after refusing to obey orders and again after an officer was “attacked”.
However, the lawsuit alleges that during the second incident, police officers simply started spraying protesters with pepper spray for no apparent reason.
Image of police brutality via Pixabay. Public domain.
“Again without warning or a waiver, the defendants’ officials and MPs began to apply pepper spray to the demonstrators,” the lawsuit said.
NBC News notes that Graham’s police later claimed they ordered to disperse and first tried to spray pepper on the ground in front of protesters. However, video footage of the encounter showed officials spraying right over protesters ‘heads – meaning the pepper particles would have gotten right on protesters’ faces and in their eyes.
In one way or another, the Graham Police found the protest following the alleged “attack on an officer” to be “unsafe and unlawful”.
Drumwright and other organizers, however, consider the march to be largely peaceful and the actions of its participants did not warrant an aggressive police reaction.
“Myself and our organization, protesters, protesters and potential voters are here lost, sad, traumatized, disabled and distracted from our intention to lead people to the trains,” Drumwright said in a press conference over the weekend.
“Let me tell you something,” he added, “we were broken, but we will not be broken.”
CNN notes that “I Am Change” – a literal “March for Elections” – was meant to honor black Americans who were killed by police and whose death sparked mass protests across the country.
Two federal lawsuits filed after North Carolina police used pepper spray to break off the march to a polling station
Voter intimidation lawsuit filed after police used pepper spray in North Carolina in March