RALEIGH, N.C. – In an important win for police accountability and transparency, a group of plaintiffs represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU of North Carolina and Mayer Brown LLP reached an agreement with the City of Graham, the Graham Police Department, and the Alamance County Sheriff in the wake of violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators during the ‘I Am Change March to the Polls’ on the last day of early voting in the November 2020 General Elections.
“The attacks on our clients harken back to the Civil Rights movement, when Black activists and their allies were viciously attacked for attempting to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “We welcome this settlement agreement as it holds the City of Graham and Alamance County accountable for their violence against our clients. We are grateful for the opportunity to represent Justice 4 the Next Generation, Alamance Alliance for Justice, and all of the individual plaintiffs as they stood resolute in the face of staunch opposition from local law enforcement fully intent on preventing them from exercising their constitutional rights.”
As part of the settlement, the defendants have agreed to pay a total of $336,900 to the plaintiffs. Graham Police Chief Kristy Cole has also agreed to have an on-the-record meeting with any of the plaintiffs who would like to join within 60 days of the lawsuit's final resolution.
“It is outrageous that people marching to the polls to cast their ballot were met with police brutality. The right to gather and march in support of a shared cause is at the core of the First Amendment,” said Chantal Stevens, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “This agreement is a step in the right direction, but it’s insufficient to reckon with the violence and trauma that these community members endured at the hands of police.”
Participants in the “I am Change March to the Polls” were physically injured when officers used pepper spray on the marchers, including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Terrified by these actions and suffering the painful effects of pepper spray, many participants were unable to proceed to the polls that day. Multiple individuals, including multiple plaintiffs in the case, were wrongfully arrested.
“The plaintiffs in this case wanted to do nothing more than to express their views on racial equality and vote in the 2020 election. They were met with unjustified and illegal police brutality. Something in this community needs to change. We hope that this settlement can be a catalyst for change,” said Stephen Medlock, partner at Mayer Brown LLP.
The ACLU of North Carolina, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Mayer Brown LLP represent seventeen individuals, as well as organizations Justice for the Next Generation and Alamance Alliance for Justice – community organizations organizing for racial justice and an end to police violence and other forms of systemic racial oppression.
“I was raised in Alamance County and it will always be my home. Their attempts to silence the voices of peaceful demonstrators are all too familiar,” said Rev. Greg Drumwright, founder and lead organizer, Justice 4 the Next Generation. “Although we’ve reached an agreement with the County, the City of Graham and law enforcement, we are deeply aware that we have still have a long way to go until we reach true equality and justice. Justice for the Next Generation is committed to the cause.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina and aims to protect protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as rights protected under Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act.
“This agreement is an initial step toward healing for those affected by the harm that occurred at the ‘I Am Change March to the Polls’,” said Quenclyn Ellison, President of Alamance Alliance for Justice. “As we move forward, Alamance Alliance for Justice will continue to advocate for meaningful change in the City of Graham and across Alamance County.”