Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. After officers from the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office in Graham, North Carolina deployed pepper spray on men, women, and children marching to the polls during early voting last month, the sheriff’s office now says it will be charging the organizer of the march with felony assault and obstruction of justice.
The Washington Post reported news of the impending charges against Rev. Greg Drumwright on Friday, which are apparently based on the sheriff office’s claims that they have video footage showing he was involved in an “altercation” in which one of their cops was injured.
If you’ll remember, scores of people were left coughing and vomiting after Alamance County officers indiscriminately sprayed pepper spray into a crowd of people gathered to practise their constitutional right to assembly and vote. A woman present at the march in a wheelchair was also captured on video going into a seizure after the brutal police action.
Rev. Drumwright’s lawyers told the Washington Post that the pending charges from the sheriff’s office are likely payback for him suing them for their actions during the rally.
Drumwright, founder of the anti-racist coalition Justice 4 the Next Generation, brought two recent lawsuits against Alamance County Sheriff Terry S. Johnson and other local officials. His attorneys say the felony charges were designed to silence him.
“These charges are retaliatory in our view,” said Elizabeth Haddix, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which represents Drumwright in the two lawsuits. “We’re looking forward to seeing the video the sheriff referenced. The videos we have seen dispute his statement.”
Drumwright’s lawsuit accuses the police of violating federal law that prohibits violence against Black voters by using intimidating force and ending their march to the polls on the last day of early voting in Graham.
The threat of felony charges has been employed this year, particularly in the South, to punish Black leaders involved in rallies and other civic actions supposedly protected under the U.S. constitution.
In September Rep. Attica Scott (D-Ky.) was charged with felony rioting for protesting Breonna Taylor’s death, charges that were later dismissed by a judge in Kentucky. Legislators in Tennessee and Florida are also considering legislation that would effectively chill citizens’ ability to protest for fear of losing their voting rights or worse.