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Citizens Marching To The Polls In N.C. Saturday Got A Taste Of Voter Suppression And Pepper-Spray

Sheriff’s deputies and local police in Graham, the county seat of Alamance County, North Carolina, pepper-sprayed a crowd of people participating in a peaceful “I Am Change” march to the polls Saturday.
Citizens Marching To The Polls In N.C. Saturday Got A Taste Of Voter Suppression And Pepper-Spray
Police pepper-spray crowd of people participating in a march to the polls Saturday in Graham, N.C. Image from: Screengrab via New & Observer video

Sheriff’s deputies and local police in Graham, the county seat of Alamance County, North Carolina, pepper-sprayed a crowd of people participating in a peaceful “I Am Change” march to the polls Saturday. They arrested a dozen people, including a local reporter/photographer and the campaign manager of a Democratic candidate who had joined the march. Among those sprayed were at least three children, ages 11, 5, and 3.

Organized by local citizens including a pastor, about 200 people marched from a church to Court Square, in the city of 15,000 on the outskirts of Burlington. There they held a peaceful rally encouraging people to vote. Then they went silent for eight minutes in honor of George Floyd, the Black man who last summer was killed when a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck and cut off his breathing for eight minutes. The videotaped killing sparked nationwide protests of tens of thousands of people in hundreds of cities and towns across America, under banners of Black Lives Matter. As soon as the silence for Floyd was broken, deputies ordered people out of the street and then began arresting and pepper-spraying them.

The mayor of Burlington, Ian Baltutis, Democratic candidate for county commissioner Dreama Caldwell, and Democratic school board candidate Seneca Rodgers all participated in at least part of the march. Caldwell told reporters her campaign manager was arrested.

The publisher of the local Alamance News, Tom Boney Jr., said in an interview with News & Observer reporters that one of his reporters who was taking photographs was arrested. “When I spoke to him on the street, while he was in police custody, he said they ordered them to move out of the roadway. He was doing so, while still taking photos, but apparently not fast enough for (the police).”

The N&O reported:

Melanie Mitchell said her 5-year-old and 11-year-old daughters were pepper-sprayed just after the moment of silence. She said Graham police approached the crowd assembled in the street and told them to move onto the sidewalk and soon began spraying pepper spray toward the ground. Mitchell’s 5-year-old took off running, she said. Both kids threw up. [...]

Veronica Holman said her 3-year-old great-nephew also threw up after being pepper-sprayed. They had been sitting on a brick wall across the street from the courthouse, she said. “They didn’t warn us or anything,” she said. “We were just sitting on the wall.”

Most of the participants didn’t make it to the polling station. Sarah Ovaska, a reporter for Cardinal & Pine, a local news outlet, interviewed Faith Cook, one of the march’s organizers who did make it and was standing in line waiting to vote. Of the sheriff’s decision to end the rally, she said, “It was intended to suppress the vote.”

Another organizer, Quencelyn Ellison, president of Alamance Alliance 4 Justice, complained about the decision to use pepper-spray and in an interview with N&O asked rhetorically. “Why were we tear-gassed on the day we were going to the polls? Voter intimidation? We’ve been out here doing this for several weeks, and we were peaceful. How do we get treated with such great threat?”

Might it have something to do with the fact that organizers think Alamance County is one of a handful that could give Democrats a majority in the currently Republican-controlled state legislature next year?

A spokesman for the state Board of Elections says the police action that turned back marchers did not disrupt early voting.

Seriously? Since when is intimidation not disruption, particularly when that intimidation comes not from domestic terrorists pretending to be “militias” but rather uniformed and armed men and women acting in an official capacity?

The old methodology of Jim Crow to keep Black people and American Indians from voting has been outlawed for half a century. But modern advocates employing new methods of voter suppression against African Americans, Latinos, and Natives clearly continue to have one thing on their side from the old days: police violence.

UPDATED:

Posted with permission from Daily Kos.

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