“[T]he right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” once again came under threat in Alamance County, North Carolina in recent weeks. A variety of activist groups joined in Graham on 24 November to protest the county’s most recent alliance with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As usual, when faced with the prospect of left-leaning demonstrations in the streets, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department decided to deploy a small army of officers in what appeared to be an attempt to harass and intimidate the protesters.
Participants reported being monitored by police drones, forced to cross private property (with permission) to reach the street and, even hours later, shadowed by law enforcement as they made their way home.
The overreaction by the county and Sheriff Terry Johnson has only focused attention on what likely would have been a quiet, peaceful and otherwise uneventful protest. Instead, out of an apparent fanatical obsession with protecting the Confederate monument in Court Square, the sheriff’s office presented itself in exactly the wrong light: as a blunt weapon wielded by a reactionary county administration more interested in defending a stone relic against an imagined enemy rather than as a protector and promoter of one of the most important rights our Constitution celebrates.
Whether or not the arrangement between the county and ICE approaches the horrors of Dachau is debatable and, in many respects, immaterial. The fact that Alamance County’s leaders and law enforcement dedicated so much time, effort and resources in what looked like an attempt to stifle these voices should remind us that the First Amendment should be exercised frequently lest we see in our own streets the level of violent repression seen recently in Hong Kong and Tehran.