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Black queer lawmaker Park Cannon arrested during signing of Georgia’s voter-restriction bill

National civil rights organizations denounce Cannon's arrest and the voting bill, which they say will disenfranchise voters.

A Georgia state trooper confronts State Representative Park Cannon for knocking on the governor’s door during a bill signing – Photo: Tamara Stevens, via Facebook.

Park Cannon, a queer Black Georgia lawmaker who was arrested last week after interrupting Gov. Brian Kemp (R) during the signing of a controversial bill that introduces additional restrictions on voting in the state in the name of “election integrity, has returned to work at the State Capitol. 

Cannon (D-Atlanta) sought to interrupt Kemp as he signed the controversial bill into law last Thursday, gently knocking on the door to Kemp’s office as he was holding a news conference about the bill. 

A Facebook Live video shows Cannon knocking on the door to Kemp’s office, and a state trooper comes over to tell her to stop knocking on the door. Cannon and the officer share an exchange of words, she knocks on the door again, and the first trooper and a second officer put Park under arrest and escort her out of the Capitol.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post, Park was charged with two felony offenses: disrupting a General Assembly session by “knowingly and intentionally” knocking the governor’s door  during a bill signing and “obstructing law enforcement” by allegedly stomping an officer’s foot three times “during the apprehension and as she was being escorted out of the property” — an action that is not shown on the Facebook Live video.

Cannon was held in Fulton County Jail and released Thursday night. In response to her arrest, supporters, Democratic leaders, and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is also Cannon’s pastor, held an hours-long vigil outside the jail denouncing the law and criticizing her arrest.

“What we have witnessed today is a desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy,” Warnock said. “We are going to take this fight to give the people their voices back.”

On Friday, following her release, Cannon tweeted: “I am not the first Georgian to be arrested for fighting voter suppression. I'[d love to say I’m the last, but we know that isn’t true. Who — and what — are they protecting when they work this hard to suppress our vote?”

Civil rights lawyer Gerald Griggs, who is representing Park, says that Georgia state troopers overstepped their authority, and that Cannon’s arrest violated a section of state law saying legislators are “free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for charges of treason, felonies, or breach of the peace.

The new law that Cannon was protesting requires new voter ID requirements for absentee voters, allows state officials to take over local elections boards, removes the secretary of state as chairman of the state elections board and replaces him with a hand-picked patsy who will do the bidding of Republican legislative leaders, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, shortens the time between general elections and runoff elections, allows any Georgian to make an unlimited number of challenges to voter registrations and eligibility, and makes it a crime to give voters waiting in line food or water.

The law has created outrage among voting and civil rights groups, as well as Georgia’s Black political leaders, who have argued that the new restrictions will disproportionately impact poor people and people of color, that eliminating local control could result in the state overriding election results or discarding those they don’t like, and revives Georgia’s sordid history of voter suppression dating back to Jim Crow.

Critics say Republicans, who were eager to ram through various changes and last-minute provisions to the original bill without much debate, are punishing Georgia voters for having voted for President Biden in last year’s presidential election and for Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff in the state’s two U.S. Senate races.

See also: Democrats win Georgia runoff races, gaining control of the U.S. Senate

On Monday, Cannon and supporters held a march circling the Georgia Capitol to protest her treatment and the new election law. She was accompanied by Martin Luther King III and supporters donning black T-shirts reading “Stand with Park.” She didn’t make any remarks as she returned to the House chamber, though her supporters did.

“I’m here to stand with Park Cannon and to deplore the treatment that she received at the hands of Georgia state troopers,” State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) told the Journal-Constitution

Cannon was previously involved in another confrontation with state troopers earlier this year when she positioned herself in front of an officer’s bullhorn before another trooper took hold of her arm to escort her away. The incident led to a sit-in on the Capitol’s steps in protest.

Cannon, a queer-identifying 29-year-old who is one of three LGBTQ legislators in Georgia, has received support from both civil rights groups and LGBTQ organizations condemning her arrest.

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the new law a “shameful, anti-democratic measure targeted at Black voters who turned out in overwhelming numbers to participate in the November and January elections” and called the process by which the bill was enacted a “reprehensible abuse of power.”

“S.B. 202, which moved through the legislature in a rushed and non-transparent process, is one of the most wildly suppressive laws, erecting substantial hurdles that will prevent thousands of voters, particularly from communities of color, from exercising this fundamental right,” Ifill said. “Moreover, the fact that Republican legislators claim S.B. 202 was passed to enhance election security despite state officials repeatedly affirming that the 2020 election was fair and free of fraud provides even further evidence that this legislation is solely intended to do one thing: suppress Black votes.”

Georgia State Rep. Park Cannon – Photo: Facebook.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute, the only national organization dedicated to fostering a pipeline of LGBTQ political leaders, called for the charges against Park to be dropped.

“Rep. Cannon is an elected representative who was attempting to speak with a governor hell-bent on signing legislation to disenfranchise her constituents. Her arrest is a disgrace and only deepens the embarrassment caused by Georgia lawmakers who resorted to Jim Crow-era tactics to suppress the vote in their state,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement. “Rep. Cannon’s arrest, in the state capitol where she serves, is only the latest in a legacy of abuse directed toward civil rights leaders demanding the right to vote.”

The National Black Justice Coalition, an organization advocating on behalf of Black LGBTQ and same-gender-loving people, blasted those pushing through the voter-restriction bill and said Cannon’s actions “were heroic and worthy of praise.”

“The fact that Cannon was arrested for doing her job by ensuring that her constituents were represented tells you everything that you need to know about Georgia’s new bill restricting voting access: it is meant to turn back the clock on civil rights and return Black and poor and already disenfranchised voters in Georgia to second-class citizens without the right to vote or have their needs prioritized by those elected to serve,” David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a statement.

“Rep. Cannon is a member of the General Assembly and, as such, until the bill is signed into law she has a right to engage the Governor on behalf of her constituents. No white member of the General Assembly acting similarly would have faced arrest, let alone felony charges,” Johns added. “The fact that Cannon is a proud same gender loving Black woman should not be lost on anyone. The fact that she has been arrested and charged for doing her job months after mostly white insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol many with impunity also speaks volumes.”

Johns also accused Republicans of attempting to disenfranchise Black voters and other marginalized groups ahead of the 2022 elections in order to maintain the party’s hold on the legislature and statewide elected offices.

“We will not let this stand. Anyone concerned about and committed to democracy should be outraged.  We demand that all charges against Rep. Cannon be immediately dropped,” Johns added. “Park is a shero and is owed an apology. The business of the General Assembly is her business and she has every right to Georgia’s unconstitutional new voter suppression law cannot stand — and we will work to ensure that SB202 is repealed or overturned.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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