Black lawmaker arrested for knocking on Brian Kemp's door as he signs voter suppression law

Rep. Park Cannon was dragged by police as Gov. Brian Kemp signed the sweeping bill below a painting of a plantation

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 26, 2021 12:09PM (EDT)

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon was arrested after knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp's door as he signed sweeping voting restrictions into law on Thursday.

Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat, was charged with obstructing law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence and disrupting the general assembly, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting, after she continued knocking after state troopers asked her to stop while Kemp signed the bill behind closed doors. She was released from jail late Thursday night.

That arrest comes as three voting-rights organizations filed suit in Atlanta federal court seeking to overturn numerous provisions of the new Georgia law just signed by Kemp, describing them as "undue burdens on the right to vote," unconstitutional under the First and 14th amendments, and violations of the Voting Rights Act. 

Georgia Public Broadcasting noted that Cannon's arrest sparked "comparisons to civil rights and police brutality protests" stretching back to the 1960s, adding that the state constitution states that lawmakers "shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly" except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.

A video posted to social media shows Cannon trying to reason with a trooper stationed outside Kemp's office door before ignoring his instruction to stop knocking. Two troopers are seen detaining Cannon as onlookers question why she is being arrested. Cannon was dragged through the halls of the state Capitol as witnesses continued to question the troopers' actions.

Another video showed Cannon being dragged through metal detectors as she protests her detention.

"Why are you arresting me?" she cries. "There is no reason for me to be arrested. I am a legislator!"

Inside the locked office, Kemp — flanked by six white legislators below a painting of a notorious Georgia slave plantation — signed a sweeping law restricting absentee and early voting among other changes Democrats have decried as "voter suppression."

The new Georgia law, which was passed along party lines in both chambers, will among other measures require voter ID for mail-in ballots, allow Republican state election officials to take over election offices in predominantly Democratic areas, restrict the use of ballot drop boxes, require mail-in ballots to be submitted 11 days before Election Day, make it a crime to serve drinks or food to voters in long lines, and limit the voting period for runoff elections — this coming after Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeated two Republican incumbents in U.S. Senate runoff races in January. The law will also replace the elected secretary of state as chair of the state election board with an official appointed by the Republican-led legislature after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pushed back on baseless election fraud claims. The bill excluded previous proposals to ban no-excuse mail voting entirely and restrict early voting on Sundays that advocates argued disproportionately impacted Black voters.

"Rather than grappling with whether their ideology is causing them to fail, they are instead relying on what has worked in the past," voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams said of the bill. "Instead of winning new voters, you rig the system against their participation, and you steal the right to vote."

Cannon, 24, is the youngest state lawmaker and one of three openly gay lawmakers elected to the House in 2016, according to CNN. She said after she was released from jail that she is not the "first Georgian to be arrested for fighting voter suppression."

"I'd love to say I'm the last," she tweeted, "but we know that isn't true."

Cannon likened the signing of the law to the mass shooting of eight people, including six Asian women, at three Atlanta-area spas last week, writing that they "are both products of a white supremacist system. Different tactics, same goal."

"We will not live in fear and we will not be controlled. We have a right to our future and a right to our freedom," she said. "We will come together and continue fighting white supremacy in all its forms."

State Sen. Nikema Williams, chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party, was likewise arrested while protesting Kemp's controversial election victory over Abrams in 2019, though the charges were later dropped.

Williams vowed on Thursday that Cannon's arrest "won't stop us from standing up for voting rights" and vowed a legal challenge to the law.

"Here in the south we know how to fight Jim Crow," she tweeted. "We'll see you in court."

Warnock visited Cannon in jail, telling reporters outside the Fulton County Jail that "she did not deserve this."

"I want to know what makes her actions so dangerous," Warnock said, calling it a "very sad day for the state of Georgia" and a "very desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy."

Ossoff also offered his support on Twitter.

"I stand with Georgia State Rep. Park Cannon (@Cannonfor58), who was arrested and CHARGED WITH A FELONY for ... for what?" he wrote. "For *knocking on Gov. Kemp's office door* as she tried to observe the cowardly closed-door signing ceremony for the voter suppression law."

Bernie King, the daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., condemned the arrest as "despicable."

"It's obviously reminiscent of everything that my father, John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, Amelia Boynton and so many others sacrificed their lives for," she told CNN. "That we would not have to continue to use these kinds of efforts to stop injustice and, frankly, inhumanity."

The outrage reverberated far beyond Georgia as Republicans push similar restrictions in dozens of states across the country, ostensibly in response to "voter concerns" about "election integrity" after former President Donald Trump and his allies spent months spreading lies about mail voting and fraud.

"Arresting a sitting member of a legislative body, while in session for knocking on the door of the Governor is wild and completely unacceptable," tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. "Are there laws against knocking on the Governor's door in Georgia, what is she actually being arrested for?"

"This is disgusting," wrote Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. "Everyone who remains silent about it is condoning it."

Kemp signed the bill into law just hours after President Joe Biden decried the Republican effort to restrict ballot access as "sick" and "un-American."

"This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle," he said at his first press conference. "This is gigantic what they're trying to do, and it cannot be sustained."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., condemned the Georgia law amid a growing Democratic push to pass H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to codify voter protections nationwide.

"Since 2012 — the GA GOP has closed more than 200 polling places," he wrote on Twitter. "Voters in mostly Black precincts now wait 8X LONGER to vote than voters in mostly white precincts. Now the GOP makes it a crime to give water to people standing in long lines THEY CREATED. Despicable! We will act."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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