Update: John McGraw, the man who punched the protester, has been charged with assault and battery and disorderly conduct.
Tensions were high at a North Carolina rally for GOP front-runner Donald Trump, Wednesday, as a protester was being escorted from the event. In a video that’s sweeping the internet, officers were escorting several young black men from the rally, when a Trump supporter walked down the end of his row and punched one of the men in the face.
Several versions of the video show the protester — wearing the white shirt — extending a middle finger to the audience as he’s being led away. Watch what the man in the cowboy hat does.
The protester has been identified as Rakeem Jones. He says the punch came out of nowhere.
“Boom, he caught me,” Jones told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “After I get it, before I could even gain my thoughts, I’m on the ground getting escorted out. Now I’m waking up this morning looking at the news and seeing me getting hit again.”
Jones said he and his “diverse” group of friends attending the rally included a white woman, a Muslim, and a gay man. He said they went as a “social experiment.” The woman in the group began shouting once Trump took the stage.
“She shouted, but at the same time, they were shouting too,” Jones added. “Everyone was shouting, too. … No one in our group attempted to get physical.”
Jones blamed the officers who led him from the rally for failing to protect him. He was surprised they tackled him to the ground and did nothing to the man who attacked him.
“It’s happening at all these rallies now and they’re letting it ride,” Jones said. “The police jumped on me like I was the one swinging. My eye still hurts. It’s just shocking. The shock of it all is starting to set in. It’s like this dude really hit me and they let him get away with it. I was basically in police custody and got hit.”
Ronnie C. Rouse, one of Jones’ friends who also attended the rally, said his group was not warmly received. He said the crowd singled them out, yelling, “you need to get the fuck out of there!”
Rouse said his group was almost immediately surrounded by officers, then escorted out. Rouse captured the aftermath of Jones’ takedown by officers.
“We’ve been watching all this stuff happen to everyone else,” Rouse said. “This isn’t Biloxi. This isn’t Montgomery. This is Fayetteville. It’s a well-cultured area.”
“I’ve never been more embarrassed to be from here in my life. It’s just appalling,” Rouse added.
Police have had to be on guard, even forming a line to separate the pro and anti-Trump groups.
So far, both the Cumberland County, N.C. sheriff’s office and the Fayetteville Police Department have told The Washington Post that their officers did not detain anyone at the rally.
Trump rallies have become more known for what happens in the audience than what happens on the stage, lately. A Time magazine photographer was “slammed” to the ground by a Secret Service agent at a Trump rally after he stepped outside of the press area to take a photo. Valdosta State University students say they were escorted out of a Trump rally even though they were not protesting. And, a young woman was repeatedly shoved by male Trump supporters during a Trump rally in Kentucky, last week. The veteran caught on camera pushing the woman has since said he regrets his actions.
Trump has called his supporters’ participating in removing protesters “really amazing to watch.” He also said he’d like to punch a protester “in the face” after a Nevada rally was interrupted by a protester last month.
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