Police officers and sheriff’s assistants in Graham, North Carolina, deployed chemical spray and arrested eight people during a march and rally on Saturday that aimed to honor George Floyd and encourage people to vote, according to police and participants.
“I am really disturbed that the people who are charged with protecting and serving” sprayed protesters with a chemical agent who were taking people to the polls, said Rev. Gregory B. Drumwright, an organizer of the event. , who was among those arrested.
“We never went to the polls because the sheriff’s office worked overtime to find a way to suppress our efforts and suppress our votes,” he said in an interview.
Graham police said in a statement that officers deployed “pepper spray” after protesters blocked off traffic on the street, “causing traffic and safety danger.”
Eventually, the march moved to a courthouse for a lecture program, where police also intervened. Officers again sprayed “pepper spray on the ground to help disperse the crowd,” police said, adding that several people ignored orders to leave.
Those arrested were charged with offenses including failure to disperse and one count of assaulting a law enforcement officer, police said. Video of the incident posted by The Raleigh News & Observer shows people shouting at MPs, who deployed spray from cartridges.
Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat due for re-election on Tuesday, said on twitter that the confrontation was “unacceptable”.
“Peaceful protesters should be able to make their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated,” Cooper wrote.
Mayor Ian Baltutis of nearby Burlington, North Carolina, who marched and spoke at the event, said he drew a multiracial crowd of around 150 to 200 people in Graham, a city of ‘approximately 15,000 residents located 50 miles northwest of Raleigh.
Mr Baltutis said after a sheriff’s deputy ordered the crowd to disperse within five minutes, deputies used the spray and tried to push people across the street.
“As an elected leader, this is not an example of the policing and de-escalation that we would expect,” Baltutis said.
The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, which also used the spray, according to attendees, did not respond to requests for comment.