At last Monday night’s contentious meeting of the Graham City Council, Chair Amy Galey ordered an approved speaker making a public comment during an agenda item to be removed from the chamber by Sheriff Terry Johnson and two officers. Galey is running for election to the North Carolina State Senate to represent District 24.
The Board’s Public Comment Policy was revised in January of 2019, and is even more strict than the controversial one that Greensboro’s mayor and city attorney unsuccessfully attempted to impose on speakers before the Greensboro City Council last year. Under the Alamance policy, speakers are forbidden to address individual members of the board or anyone else in the room.
That policy, however, is for the public comments section of the agenda, which limits comments to three minutes each, with no more than three speakers allowed on the same topic. Williams was speaking during the public hearing part of the agenda, during which speakers are allotted five minutes, and there are no posted rules forbidding speakers to address anyone but the board as a whole during public hearings. The public hearing was on whether the county should offer United Parcel Service incentives to build a plant in the North Carolina Commerce Park.
Meg Williams was the first speaker from the public on the agenda item. She began by stating her name and that she did not feel safe giving her address due to threats she has received from neo-Confederates in the city streets “who are emboldened by that monument and your continued silence.”
She then stated that she was not there as an individual citizen, but as a representative of Alamance Alliance for Justice, Downhome NC Alamance Chapter, Forward Motion Alamance, Siembra NC, Alamance Whites Against White Supremacy, and Alamance Agents for Change, whom, she said, “are all here to address our UPS representative.”
“Your comments need to be directed toward the board,” Galey interrupted.
“They actually have to do with their end—,” Williams said.
“I’m sorry, I’m still speaking,” Galey said.
“I was speaking first, actually,” Williams replied, “you don’t get to talk over me, it’s my five minutes. This is a public meeting and I’m asking them about their incentive package.”
“I’m asking you to return to your seat," Galey said.
Williams replied: “If you are not going to listen to your constituents, why should I—...”
“This is disorderly conduct in the course of a public meeting,” said Galey before Williams finished that sentence. “You’re not being courteous in your language and presentation.”
“My language is plenty courteous,” Williams said, “we are here to address UPS, because as a company committed to racial equity and to the principles outlined in the UPS foundation—”
“You are not permitted to address UPS,” continued Galey, again talking over Williams. “Sheriff, please take steps, Ms. Williams is disrupting a public meeting.”
Sheriff Terry Johnson stood up and approached Williams from her right, while the bailiff approached her from behind. The sheriff made a hooked thumb gesture at Galey, then motioned for a deputy, as did the bailiff.
“I get five minutes to speak, and I have four left,” Williams said.
“You forfeited your right,” said the sheriff, motioning to the deputy, who grabbed Williams’ arms from behind and yanked her away from the podium. The bailiff then shoved and the deputy dragged her off camera. “Get your hands off me!” shouted Williams as she disappeared from view on the county video.
“She’s in trouble,” Sheriff Johnson said. “We told you to be civil.”
“Best thing to do is move on out the door, lady” said Commissioner Eddie Boswell, laughing. Commissioners Bill Lashley and Tim Sutton joined him in the laughter, nodding in approval.
The incident can be viewed in the video Excerpt: 8-17-2020 Alamance CC Meeting: Meg Williams Silenced (Agenda speaker on UPS Incentives), which is one the Alamance County Watch YouTube channel.
“They threatened to detain me and attempted to intimidate me by surrounding me with six deputies,” Williams later told YES! Weekly. She said that, ultimately, she was not arrested, but issued a citation for disruption of a public meeting. “But Chairwoman Galey is the one who caused the disruption by speaking over me and interrupting my allotted five minutes.”
Williams also provided YES! Weekly with the Appeal to UPS that she was cut off from reading at the podium.
Williams described being physically dragged from the podium as an “assault.” An assault also occurred before the meeting in the street outside, when a neo-Confederate protester put her hands on one of the evening’s public speakers.
That speaker was Carey Kirk Griffin, who was not silenced at the County Commissioners Meeting as she repeatedly was at the previous week’s meeting of the Graham City Council.
At 6 p.m. on Monday, an hour before the county meeting, a rally was held outside the county courthouse by the same groups that issued the statement that Williams was forcibly prevented from reading. The rally was to announce the result of the People’s Referendum, a symbolic vote conducted by Down Home NC, Siembra NC and Forward Motion Alamance on whether to move the city’s Confederate monument and repeal Sheriff Terry Johnson’s new 287g agreement with ICE.
While the rally was being livestreamed by Siembra NC, one neo-Confederate repeatedly attempted to block the camera with his Confederate flag, while another, standing on the courthouse steps, repeatedly held a flag-shaped 2nd Amendment banner above a speaker’s head, then made physical threats and dared protesters to stop him.
The only physical assault was when a neo-Confederate counter-protester making a video of the rally suddenly put her hand on Griffin and shoved her. As can be seen in this video, Griffin did not touch her assailant or retaliate, but both women were cited for "Simple Assault."
Activists allege this is part of a pattern and practice by Sheriff Terry Johnson and the Graham Police, claiming that, while activists are immediately arrested if they initiate a confrontation with a neo-Confederate, that when a neo-Confederate assaults a Black Lives Matter activist, officers do not respond unless other activists are making videos and shout for the officers to intervene. At which point, the activists allege, officers arrest or cite both parties.
At the meeting, Griffin presented the commissioners with the results of the symbolic referendum. Before she took the podium, Chair Amy Galey remarked on the sounds of the protest outside. As can be seen in this YouTube video, Sheriff Johnson asked her “you want me to shut them up?," to which Galey stated, “they are not allowed to use amplified speech,” and “when many people chant together, that is in itself amplified speech.” She asked the other board members is they felt the meeting was being disrupted by the noise from outside. While several expressed disapproval of the protest, they indicated it was “OK for now.”
In her speech, Griffin told the commissioners that the organizations she spoke for had, on Aug. 3, called on them to hold a public vote on the relocation of the confederate monument from the courthouse and the repeal of the 287g Warrant Service Officer Program in the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, and to respond by end of business day on Aug. 10.
She then said, “not only have you failed to respond, but to this day you have failed to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of our community in regards to these issues,” and that they had demonstrated their “unwillingness to listen to all your constituents and your refusal to provide any real oversight to a sheriff who went behind your back (and against the expertise of the county attorney) to sign an agreement with ICE without a proper vote."
Shen then stated that’s why the People’s Referendum was held on Aug. 15.
“We wanted to give residents (tax payers) in Alamance County an opportunity to be heard. There were 1,051 legitimate online votes and 840 legitimate in person votes: In total, 1,798 voted, of which 1,339 people voted that the County Commission should move the monument, while 462 voted against its relocation. And 1,289 people voted that the Commission should repeal the sheriff's 287(g) program with ICE, while 450 voted against a repeal.”
After she finished, Galey and several commissioners dismissed the legitimacy of the vote, stating they had been told of instances of individuals voting multiple times, even though Griffin had stated that fake votes, multiple votes from the same person, and votes from zip codes outside the county had been filtered out, and were not part of the final count.
“I was shocked to hear it was only two to one,” Commissioner Tim Sutton said. I don’t consider it a slam dunk in the least that 500 people showed up in the adversity of the avenue and voted against a clear agenda. I would gamble all day long that you ain’t even close.”
“Two to one” would have been 1,197 votes; the vote to move the monument was 1,339, or roughly three to one.
On Aug. 18, Griffin sent the following email to the Alamance County Commissioners:
Your comments to the Alamance People’s Referendum last night warranted clarification. If I had more than 3 minutes, I could have shared in detail how this coalition went above and beyond to ensure the People’s Referendum was fair and just.
We chose to trust in people’s integrity to only vote once. Nevertheless, we chose to filter out the obvious infractions. For example: Someone wrote a program to submit fake votes, submitting 5,322 votes under the name "Require Voter ID"
10 people from outside Alamance attempted to cast an online vote
122 people voted more than once, all against removing the monument and 287(g)
98 people submitted fake names or email addresses, like Got Votes, Go Home, Puddin Tain, Bleep Boop, Tickle Me, and racist phrases we won't repeat, all against removing the monument and repealing 287(g)
After those votes were disqualified, there were 1,051 legitimate online votes
Of those, 714 people voted to that the County Commission should move the monument, 337 voted against - 68% 'yes' to 32% 'no'
And 659 people voted that the Commission should repeal the sheriff's 287(g) program with ICE, 347 voted against - 65% 'yes' to 35% 'no'
In Person Voting:
A total of 840 Ballots were cast.
After Eliminating those who failed to include a Zip Code or wrote a Zip Code from Outside of Alamance County:
A Total of 748 ballots were counted.
Of Those, 625 Voted in favor of moving the monument, while 115 voted for keeping it where it is.
630 voted in favor of repealing the sheriff’s new 287(g) agreement, while 103 voted to keep it.
People voting online said they lived in Graham, Haw River, McLeansville, Liberty, Saxapahaw, Burlington, Mebane, Snow Camp, Elon, Gibsonville
In Total Of the 1,890 who voted 1,798 were valid
Of those: 1,339 voted in favor of moving the monument- (74.5 %)
462 voted Against moving the monument (25.5 %)
On repealing 287(g)
1,289 voted For Repealing 287(g) -(71.7 %)
450 voted Against Repealing (28.3 %)
You can try to disqualify these results by saying it wasn’t fair or by saying you also represent people who want to keep the monument. But the proof is here. Dozens of folks volunteered their Saturday to operate polling booths and to give our community a platform to be heard. On top of that, hundreds of people came out to vote on a referendum created by the people because they no longer trust that you will listen to them.
If you really represent all of your constituents why do you all continue to fail to respond to those who have different views? We have called, written, and arrived on your steps for 3 meetings. This board has a leadership issue; you fear dissent and engagement. And, it’s clearly harming the democratic process and potential progress of Alamance County.