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Wednesday March 22nd

Judge temporarily blocks Graham, N.C. ordinance limiting protests, requiring permits

The Alamance County Confederate Monument in Graham, NC is surrounded by road barricades and signs. Photo courtesy of Colin Dodd.
Buy Photos The Alamance County Confederate Monument in Graham, NC is surrounded by road barricades and signs. Photo courtesy of Colin Dodd.

Protests for racial justice and debates over Confederate monuments have raged across the nation.  Graham, North Carolina, is no exception.  

On Monday, Federal Judge Catherine Eagles granted a temporary restraining order against the City of Graham and Alamance County, which prevents the city from enforcing a controversial ordinance on protesting.   

The ordinance places conditions on protesting and other demonstrations, which include requiring permits for protests of two or more people and restricts minors' ability to protest.

If the chief of police grants the permit, he then has discretion to limit the protest or other gathering to “not more than six persons” and has discretion to order individuals to disperse upon a violation of any of the terms of the permit.  

According to a July 6 press release, the ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Lockamy Law Firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Alamance NAACP Branch and eight individuals on July 2 against the City of Graham and Alamance County officials for the ordinance.

In the restraining order, Judge Eagles wrote that one of the reasons the restraining order was issued was due to the likelihood of the success of the plaintiff’s claims. 

“As the Court finds Plaintiffs likely to prevail on their First and Fourteenth Amendment claim, the Court finds them likely to suffer irreparable injury as well. Plaintiffs’ injury is particularly imminent and immediate preliminary injunctive relief is necessary because several Plaintiffs state that they intend to protest in the near future. For these reasons, the Court finds it appropriate to issue this Order,” the judge wrote. 

In the press release, Kristi Graunke, the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said the order upheld protesters' rights. 

“This ordinance’s only purpose was to suppress the rights of protesters. People have a right to express dissent against racism, police brutality and white supremacy," Graunke said in the release. “The order issued today upholds their right to do so without fear of harassment or arrest.” 

The suit claimed the First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights of demonstrators and protesters were being breached, said Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“It is an ordinance that the U.S. Supreme Court has already held similar ordinances to be unconstitutional as what was called a prior restraint on free speech and the ability to assemble and petition your government for redress — which is guaranteed under the First Amendment,” Haddix said.  

Haddix also said the ordinance has “vague language” and gives too much discretion to the chief of police for handling protests and demonstrations. 

Graham is home to the Alamance County Confederate Monument, which is located in Court Square on the north side of the Alamance County Courthouse — a site of many local protests. 

“The county is prohibiting people from occupying that space when it is just as fundamental a public forum as ever could exist,” said Haddix. “This is where our country is having the discussion about white supremacy — at these Confederate monument sites.”  

Colin Dodd, a Hillsborough resident, is one of the eight individual plaintiffs of the lawsuit. He said he felt a “call to action" to protest. 

Dodd traveled to Graham and wanted to question the police about where he could protest legally — posting the experience on Facebook with a video. 

“I was super prepared and my plan was to be calm, but firm, but also polite,” he said.  

However, Dodd said things turned confrontational when he was reminded of Wyatt Outlaw, the first African American elected to be Town Commissioner and Constable of Graham. He was lynched in 1870 by the Ku Klux Klan.  

“I got really upset and then when the cops got standoffish — I got scared,” he said.

Dodd said he hopes the outcome from the lawsuit will allow him to be fully protected when exercising his First Amendment rights in Graham. 

“This is not optional for them. It’s their obligation under the Constitution. I don’t want to be just allowed to protest there, I expect to be protected while I protest there,” he said. 

Tenae Turner, a Morrisville resident, was also one of the eight individual plaintiffs. She said she wanted to go back to her hometown of Graham and exercise her right to protest along with people that she knew.   

She said she followed the orders of the ordinance, which requires a written application for a permit filed 24 hours in advance from the chief of police, but her request was denied. 

“I filed on Wednesday, June 24 for a protest that Saturday, June 27,” she said. “I got a call from the Graham Police Department around 8:56 p.m. that Friday saying our request was denied. I filed again on Saturday for that Sunday and that too was denied.”  

Turner said she wants to be able to have First Amendment rights protected and guaranteed.  

The temporary restraining order will remain in effect for 14 days, pending the court’s decision on plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for July 20.

An attorney representing the City of Graham did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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