For The Record

Georgia lawmaker vows fight after arrest during protest of voting bill

By: - March 26, 2021 5:43 pm

Rep. Park Cannon was arrested Thursday after protesting outside Gov. Kemp’s office door over a controversial election bill. Pictured is a separate incident from the month prior in which Cannon objected to an officer touching her during a protest. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

State Rep. Park Cannon has been released from jail following a protest in front of Gov. Brian Kemp’s office as the governor signed a controversial bill Thursday evening that restricts access to the ballot box.

In a statement released Friday, Cannon thanked supporters and vowed to fight on.

“I will continue to fight for the rights of Georgians from far and wide, but today I ask for privacy for myself and my family as I heal from this experience, so that I may continue this fight again,” the Atlanta Democrat said.

According to Capitol police, the incident that led to Cannon’s arrest started shortly after 6:30 p.m., when she began to knock on Kemp’s office door, interrupting the live stream of a signing ceremony for the voting overhaul legislation. Viewers watched the video feed cut out suddenly after Kemp turned his head away from the camera.

“Rep. Cannon was instructed to stop knocking on the door and that Gov. Kemp was having a press conference inside,” said Georgia State Patrol Public Information Director Lt. W. Mark Riley. “Rep. Cannon continued to knock on the door and was instructed again to stop knocking on the door. She was advised that she was disturbing what was going on inside and if she did not stop, she would be placed under arrest.”

A viral video filmed by activist Tamara Stevens shows Cannon briefly step away from the door before returning to knock again. An officer can be heard saying “That’s it, you’re under arrest,” before two officers put Cannon’s arms behind her back and handcuffed her before leading her away into an elevator.

Cannon can be heard shouting “stop, where are you taking me?”

Records show she was booked into Fulton County Jail on charges of preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions and obstructing law enforcement.

She was released on a signature bond later the same night.

Kemp was signing Senate Bill 202, which limits absentee voting and institutes other new restrictions. Supporters say it will help restore voter confidence after two contentious elections. Opponents call it a baldfaced attempt at discouraging minority voters and have dubbed it “Jim Crow 2.0.”

Republicans criticize that language as absurd political theater, but images of white officers hauling off a Black woman have amplified comparisons to Georgia’s civil rights struggles.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., made such a comparison to CNN’s Don Lemon Thursday night.

“It’s despicable, and it’s obviously reminiscent of everything that my father, John Lewis, CT Vivian, Amelia Boynton, and so many others sacrificed their lives for, that we would not continue to have to use these kind of efforts to fight injustice and, frankly, inhumanity,” she said. “I applaud her bravery and her courage, because we’re in those times now.”

Stacey Abrams tweeted out a photo superimposing Kemp alongside infamous segregationist Strom Thurmond and Cannon’s arrest next to that of civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, who was jailed for protesting segregated movie theaters.

“From passage of the #SB202 voter suppression bill targeted at Black and brown voters to the arrest of a Black legislator who was advocating for the voting rights of her constituents, today was a reminder of Georgia’s dark past,” Abrams said. “We must fight for the future of our democracy.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock, who serves as Cannon’s pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, said he spoke with Cannon while she was in jail.

“She is an outstanding public servant,” Warnock said outside the jail. “We’re praying for her, we’re praying for her family, but we are praying also for Georgia and for the soul of our democracy. We are witnessing right now a kind of wrestling in the soul of Georgia. Will we go forward, or will we go backwards? We will not allow a few politicians in their craven lust for power to take us back.”

Sen. Jon Ossoff also tweeted out his support for Cannon, as did Georgia U.S. Reps Hank Johnson and Nikema Williams.

Williams, then a state senator, was arrested by Capitol police during a 2018 protest and booked into Fulton County Jail with similar charges, which were later dropped. She is suing the state over that incident.

“In 2018, I was escorted out of the state capitol in handcuffs,” Williams tweeted. “In 2021, yet another Black woman has been arrested at her place of work as fellow legislators attempt to suppress the vote. Our vote is our voice. We will not be silenced.”

Cannon had another protest-related confrontation with Capitol police last month when an officer physically moved her aside during a protest inside the Capitol, which Cannon and others said was inappropriate. That encounter sparked a two-hour sit-in inside the Capitol.

Atlanta attorney Gerald Griggs, a frequent speaker at recent voting rights protests, said he is representing Cannon, who he said sustained bruising in the incident. Griggs said he plans to “vigorously defend against these charges.”

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.