RALEIGH, N.C. — In response to a lawsuit and motion for a temporary restraining order filed on July 3 by civil rights groups, a federal judge granted a consent temporary restraining order on July 6 following an agreement reached by the City of Graham, the Alamance County Sheriff and plaintiffs. The order states that the city’s ordinance requiring two or more people who want to protest to obtain a prior permit, “shall have no force of effect pending further orders from the Court.”
“This ordinance’s only purpose was to suppress the rights of protestors. People have a right to express dissent against racism, police brutality, and white supremacy,” said Kristi Graunke, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “The order issued … upholds their right to do so without fear of harassment or arrest.” She added, “It is appalling that Alamance County officials would trample on the First Amendment rights of their own constituents for the sake of a monument to white supremacy.”
“Our clients are relieved that they can now engage in peaceful protest in Graham without having to ask the Chief of Police’s permission,” said Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “What remains now is to get rid of the unlawful restriction of protestors’ rights to exercise their First Amendment rights on the courthouse grounds at the Confederate monument site.
“I sought to gather with others to express support for Black lives, advocate for the removal of the monument, and for equally representative government, and I was denied that right,” said Tenae Turner, a plaintiff. “It sends a clear message that racist monuments are valued more highly than Black lives and our constitutional rights.”
The ordinance, which mirrors a law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down more than 50 years ago, is one of the most speech-restrictive laws nationwide. It makes it illegal for two people to be outside together, and even one person to walk alone, without a permit for the purposes of protesting or “making known any position or thought.”
“Any mayor, police chief, or governor who imposes such draconian restrictions on the right to protest should understand that they will be sued,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The ACLU will hold accountable any government actor who violates the First Amendment.”
“Peace and justice should belong to everyone, everywhere and all the time,” said Barrett Brown, president of the Alamance Branch of NAACP. “The city’s permit requirement and periodic protest ban violate our most fundamental rights to peacefully assemble and petition our government for redress.”
“This site represents the very racist past and present these protestors want to speak out against,” said Haddix. “The community is trying to reckon with its own racist history in the midst of police violence against citizens across the country; at the same time, sheriff’s deputies restrict the most basic rights of its citizens to protest while threatening to arrest anyone for simply wearing anti-racist clothing.”
The emergency lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Scott Holmes and the Lockamy Law Firm, and the Law Office of Thomas W. Cadwallader, on behalf of Alamance NAACP Branch and eight individuals against the City of Graham and Alamance County officials, in federal court for the Middle District of North Carolina. It sought preliminary relief blocking the city from implementing the order while the underlying First Amendment challenge proceeds. City and county officials had been enforcing the ordinance in response to recent protests against the city’s Confederate monument. 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 at 9 a.m.
In the meantime, Elon University’s NC News Intern Corp’s Anton L. Delgado reported that a student-led sit-in was held on July 9 in the front of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office. Thirty individuals gathered there and participated in a three-hour protest. Cars drove by with some decrying “blue lives matter” while raising middle fingers and others shouted “thank you” over the dismantling of the statue. See the accompanying article for more detail.