Police officers and sheriff’s deputies in Graham, N.C., deployed a chemical spray and arrested eight people at a march and rally on Saturday that were intended to honor George Floyd and encourage people to vote, according to the police and participants.
“I am truly disturbed by the fact that people who are charged to protect and to serve” sprayed a chemical agent on marchers who were taking people to the polls, said the Rev. Gregory B. Drumwright, an organizer of the event, who was among those arrested.
“We never got to the polls because the sheriff’s office worked overtime to find a way to quell our efforts and suppress our voices,” he said in an interview.
The Graham police said in a statement that officers had deployed a “pepper-based vapor” after the marchers blocked traffic in the street, “causing a traffic and safety hazard.”
Eventually, the march moved on to a courthouse for a speaking program, where the police also intervened. Officers once again sprayed a “pepper-based vapor onto the ground to assist in dispersing the crowd,” the police said, adding that several people had ignored commands to leave.
The people arrested were charged with offenses including failing to disperse and one count of assault on a law enforcement officer, the police said. Video of the incident posted by The Raleigh News & Observer showed people shouting at deputies, who deployed spray from canisters.
Josh Stein, North Carolina’s attorney general, said on Twitter that he had gone to the courthouse in Graham after the “troubling” incident and had reached out to the State Board of Elections, which informed him that early voting at the courthouse had not been affected.
“All eligible voters in North Carolina have a constitutional right to cast their vote safely and securely, without threats or intimidation,” Mr. Stein, a Democrat, said.
Mayor Ian Baltutis of nearby Burlington, N.C., who marched and spoke at the event, said it had drawn a multiracial crowd of about 150 to 200 people in Graham, a city of about 15,000 located 50 miles northwest of Raleigh.
Mr. Baltutis said that 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, it’s not an example of the professional policing and de-escalation we would expect,” Mr. Baltutis said.
The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, which also used the spray, according to participants, did not respond to requests for comment.