Marchers take to the streets in Graham. (photo by Carolyn de Berry)
Antiracists marched on the Confederate monument in Graham on Saturday in the largest mobilization since mid-summer in a protest that was punctuated by anger at the county commissioners’ refusal to remove the statue and what they perceive as biased policing amidst rising tension with neo-Confederate counter-protesters.
Protesters took over one lane of traffic on South Main Street, chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and, “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” defying police officers’ orders to stay on the sidewalk as they began the half-mile walk to the Historic Courthouse where the Confederate monument stands.
Much of the protesters’ anger was directed at Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson due to his conspicuous friendliness with neo-Confederates and one-sided enforcement against antiracists. The sheriff’s cooperation with US Immigration Customs Enforcement has also drawn protest, and a group of Latinx people carrying Salvadoran and Mexican flags joined the march. Deepening protesters’ unhappiness with Johnson, a recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the Alamance County jail has put detainees’ health at risk.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Terry Johnson’s go to go,” they chanted. And, “No good sheriffs under Terry Johnson.”
When the antiracists protesters reached Court Square, they encountered sheriff’s deputies in military-style camouflage wielding batons next to the monument, officers posted on the rooftop of the Historic Courthouse, and a drone hovering overhead. A small group of monument supporters stood next to the statue, backed by sheriff’s deputies.
The Graham police funneled the roughly 200 antiracist protesters onto the sidewalk on the outside of the traffic circle.
“We’re going to walk back and forth across this crosswalk until they send us home, you understand?” said a march leader carrying a Black Lives Matter flag. “But they can’t send us home, right?”
Throughout the evening, neo-Confederates filmed the antiracists, prompting them to block the cameras with umbrellas and signs.
Arrests began almost immediately.
“They’re snatching us up out of the streets,” protesters warned.
Among a total of nine antiracists arrested was Lee Vaughn, a photographer who has documented the protests and contributed work to Triad City Beat. Prior to the Saturday march, Vaughn had told TCB that during a previous demonstration Graham police had thrown him down on the ground because they mistakenly identified him as a man who had committed an assault. They released him after other protesters loudly complained. But Vaughn said they taunted him and told him that they were going to arrested his friend on a later occasion.
A medic from Greensboro, who requested anonymity, told TCB they were arrested after they crossed the street to the courthouse to check on the well-being of another protester.
“Four or five heavily armed cops were rushing towards them and telling them to get out of the street,” they said. “As we were backing up and I was helping that person back up , one of the cops grabbed my arm, and two of them dragged me off by my backpack and my arm.” The medic said they were charged with obstructing traffic.
Down Home North Carolina, a progressive group that organizes around healthcare and immigration, was putting up bail to bond out antiracist protesters. Sugelema Lynch with Down Home said one antiracist was arrested after being “nudged” by a car because police said he struck the car with a flag.
After about an hour, as dusk fell, the antiracists retreated to a parking lot about a block from the monument to rally their spirits and prevent further arrests.
“I love the solidarity; I love you guys coming out to support this city,” said Quenclyn Ellison, with Alamance Alliance for Justice. “I hear so many people say about Alamance County: ‘Oh, we got to get out of Alamance County.’ No! We got to get in to Alamance County.
“It’s so much to deal with,” she continued. “The main thing we have to worry about right now is getting that Confederate statue down. The Confederate statue represents so much hate, so much division. And that Confederate monument coming down is so important to making change in this community. We know we have to be out here marching and our people being arrested. The police department is a big waste of funds. I have personally experienced the lack of police support…. How can they have so much fucking funding and not handle cases that need attention where people are actually in harm and in harm’s way? The only cases they want to solve are cases where they can criminalize people, especially Black men.”
Ellison said the next march would be a “march to the polls,” noting that three of the five commissioners are up for reelection. Dreama Caldwell, one of the challengers, has publicly spoken out in favor of relocating the monument.
As the antiracists were disbursing and walking to their cars, there were a small number of confrontations with counter-protester.
One counter-protester smacked a bullhorn carried by an antiracist three times, according to a young man who gave his name as Armando. As a crowd of antiracists swelled, Graham police hustled the counter-protesters inside a restaurant on Court Square.
“Put him in handcuffs,” one woman demanded. And the crowd chanted, “Lock him up.” An officer came out to take a statement from Armando, and another protester chanted, “Show me what democracy looks like — this is what democracy looks like.” The officer went back into the restaurant, and a cheer went up as he led the counter-protester through the crowd in handcuffs.