Police in Graham, NC, used irritants to break up a group of people gathered to participate in the "I Am Change" march on Saturday after "concerns for the safety of all" arose, according to the Alamance County Sheriff's Office.
North Carolina police use pepper spray to break up march to polling place
01:49 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Two lawsuits were filed in federal court Monday evening over the police’s pepper spraying of people at the “I Am Change” rally in Graham, North Carolina, on Saturday, which was branded as a “march to the polls.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of marchers who were pepper-sprayed and “suffered harm.”

The lawsuit challenges the use of force and intimidation by the city of Graham and Alamance County, arguing that “Defendants prevented North Carolinians from peacefully protesting and casting their vote free from intimidation, threats, harassments, and coercion.”

Similarly, the second lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of North Carolina and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of individual plaintiffs like the Rev. Gregory Drumwright, the event’s organizer, argues that Graham police and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office “actions to suppress and violently disperse a peaceful assembly gathered for the express purpose of encouraging people to vote” intimidated and discouraged the plaintiffs and other march participants from voting.

CNN has reached out to the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office and the Graham Police Department for comment.

According to the Graham Police Department, law enforcement pepper-sprayed the ground to disperse the crowd in at least two instances – first, after marchers did not move out of the road following a moment of silence, and again after an officer was “assaulted” and the event deemed “unsafe and unlawful.”

But the event’s organizers and other attendees have said they did nothing to warrant the response, and that they wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights and march to the polls.

“I and our organization, marchers, demonstrators and potential voters left here sunken, sad, traumatized, obstructed and distracted from our intention to lead people all the way to the polls,” Drumwright said in a news conference Sunday.

“Let me tell you something: We were beaten, but we will not be broken,” he added.

The “I Am Change” march was branded as a “march to the polls” in honor of Black people whose deaths have fueled protests over racial injustice, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin, according to a flyer for the event.