WASHINGTON: Law enforcement officers used pepper spray on demonstrators on Saturday to break up a rally to a polling place in Graham, North Carolina, after the demonstration was deemed "unsafe and unlawful."
At least eight people were arrested during the rally on various charges, including failure to disperse and one instance of assault on a law enforcement officer, Graham police said, reported CNN.
A statement from the Graham Police Department said that, officers pepper-sprayed the ground to disperse the crowd when the demonstration was deemed unsafe and unlawful'.
The rally was scheduled from 11 am to 2 pm starting from Wayman's Chapel AME church, with an expected stop at the Confederate Monument at Court Square, before ending at a polling place on Elm Street, according to the flyer for the event.
However, once at Court Square, police decided to disperse the crowd, according to Graham police, after people stopped in the road for about 9 minutes, causing traffic to back up, according to CNN.
The police statement said the march organizers were told that blocking a roadway was a "prohibited activity that would be strictly enforced."
The crowd was ordered to disperse and was warned several times that pepper spray would be deployed if it failed to do so. After five minutes, several people remained and officers again pepper-sprayed the ground, the sheriff's office said.
Meanwhile, Scott Huffman, a North Carolina Democratic congressional candidate who attended the march, insisted that the demonstrators were only exercising their First Amendment rights.
"We were peacefully demonstrating, we were exercising our First Amendment rights with Black Lives Matter," Huffman said in a video he shared on Twitter.
Huffman argued that the demonstrators had obtained proper permits, and further alleged that the protests turned violent because law enforcement had tried to take the sound equipment.
According to CNN, the Alamance County Sheriff's Office said it had made the arrests at the demonstration, citing "violations of the permit" the organizer, the Rev Gregory Drumwright, a pastor and activist, obtained to hold the rally.
According to a flyer for the event, the "I Am Change" march was branded as a "march to the polls" where participants were encouraged to march in honour of Black people whose deaths have fueled protests over racial injustice, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor among others.
Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the families of numerous victims of police brutality, was scheduled to speak at the event, the flyer shows, along with Brooke Williams, George Floyd's niece.