For The Record

Capitol voting bills protest leads to conflict between lawmaker and police

By: - February 26, 2021 5:23 pm

Rep. Park Cannon objected to being physically moved aside by a state patrol officer during a protest over voting rights at the Georgia Capitol Friday afternoon. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

A group of Democratic lawmakers staged a sit-in at the state Capitol after Democratic Rep. Park Cannon objected to being physically moved aside by a state police officer during a protest over voting rights.

The interaction took place in the middle of a small but loud demonstration over GOP proposals to restrict voting began once lawmakers stopped Friday for lunch.

The emotional encounter was a sign of deepening tensions at the state Capitol as lawmakers barrel toward a vote on sweeping voting legislation Monday, when more protests are planned.

An officer was instructing the demonstrators over a bullhorn that they were violating a state law that bars any attempt to disrupt the Legislature’s work when Cannon stood directly in front of him with her head in front of the blaring bullhorn. Another officer then approached the Atlanta lawmaker and said “Ma’am, step aside” before placing his hand on her arm to move her, leading to an outcry from Canon.

Rep. Park Cannon is surrounded by fellow lawmakers who staged a sit-in on the main steps inside the Georgia Capitol Friday afternoon. Cannon objected to a state patrol officer’s handling of her during a protest over controversial voting bills. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

The confrontation led to a nearly two-hour sit-in on a main stairwell inside the Capitol that continued as lawmakers reconvened Friday afternoon to vote on bills. Cannon said she wanted the officer to apologize.

Cannon told reporters afterwards that the police response to the protest was out of line because lawmakers were on break when the protest took place. She accused officers of trying to intimidate those who had gathered Friday. No arrests were made.

“Instead of becoming silenced, we sat down,” Cannon said. “We have been sitting in this state capitol for over an hour and a half at this point to make it very clear: that apology that officer wants to give me behind closed doors is no deal.

“If you want to disrespect Black women lawmakers in front of the public when we’re all watching, you can apologize while we’re all watching, and we would request, respectfully, that you put a mask on,” she said, referring to the officer’s lack of face mask.

Lt. W. Mark Riley, public information officer with the Georgia State Patrol, said in a statement Friday that Cannon’s actions “could be construed as obstruction of law enforcement.”

A confrontation between a state lawmaker and a state patrol officer during a protest led to a nearly two-hour sit-in on a main stairwell inside the Capitol that continued as lawmakers reconvened Friday afternoon to vote on bills. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

“As Troopers were attempting to read a dispersal order, Representative Cannon stepped in front of the megaphone and placed her head against it causing feedback,” he said.  After being told to move, Cannon was “moved to the side so that the dispersal order could be completed.”

Republicans are considering a pile of voting bills that they say are designed to restore the public’s confidence in the state’s voting system. Former President Donald Trump spent months casting doubt on the integrity of the state’s election system and processes, with a particular focus on absentee ballots.

The Senate has already approved changes that would require Georgians who cast an absentee ballot to verify their identity using a government ID. The House will consider a massive bill Monday that would restrict early voting options, add requirement for absentee voting, ban provisional ballots if someone votes outside of their precinct, among other changes.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.