GRAHAM, N.C. - A get-out-the vote rally that ended with North Carolina police pepper spraying and arresting attendants was the result of participants blocking the roadway without authorization, authorities said Saturday.
Graham police said they issued several warnings to the crowd at Alamance County’s courthouse to move from the roadway before releasing pepper spraying and later arresting eight people.
A press release from the department said the march organized by Reverend Greg 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.
Police said attendees paused in the roadway for about nine minutes, creating traffic back ups “in all directions around court square."
Later, police asked the crowd to disperse, giving them a five-minute warning to leave the roadway.
After the time passed, police said they released the spray toward the ground not “directly” toward any participant.
The “I Am Change” march to the polls was organized by activist 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.
“We are fed up with this kind of treatment in Alamance County and in Graham City,” Drumwright said in a Facebook live video following the altercation. “Both of those law entities ... colluded to suppress peaceful organizers, who were here not only to vote today, but to call an end to system oppression and racial disparages.”
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 is 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 Attorney General Josh Stein called the events “troubling." He said election officials told him that polling places stayed open and people continued to vote.
“All eligible voters in North Carolina have a constitutional right to cast their vote safely and securely, without threats or intimidation,” said Stein, a Democrat.
A Confederate monument outside the Alamance County courthouse has been a local target for demonstrations since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in May. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Drumwright said he'll be holding a press conference Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the Tucker Street Apartments in Burlington, where he is from.
Storyful contributed to this story.