Lawmaker arrested during election bill signing: ‘Voter suppression in Georgia is alive today’

Fellow legislators, family and supporters surround state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, center, as she speaks at a press conference held Thursday in Atlanta's Sweet Auburn District. Cannon is facing up to eight years in prison after being charged with two felonies for knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp's office door as he was making remarks and signing into law the state's new election overhaul during a closed-door ceremony. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Fellow legislators, family and supporters surround state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, center, as she speaks at a press conference held Thursday in Atlanta's Sweet Auburn District. Cannon is facing up to eight years in prison after being charged with two felonies for knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp's office door as he was making remarks and signing into law the state's new election overhaul during a closed-door ceremony. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In her first comments addressing her arrest a week ago, state Rep. Park Cannon said the two felony charges she faces for knocking on the door to the governor’s office pale in comparison to what she says will be the consequences of Georgia’s new voting law.

“As difficult as it is to acknowledge that I am facing eight years in prison on unfounded charges, I believe the governor’s signing into law the most comprehensive voter suppression bill in the country is a far more serious crime,” Cannon, wearing a sling on her left arm, said Thursday in front of the John Lewis mural on Auburn Avenue flanked by legislators, family and supporters.

State troopers arrested Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat, March 25 after she knocked on Gov. Brian Kemp’s private office door while he held a livestreamed press conference to announce he had signed Senate Bill 202 into law. Videos of police dragging her from the door went viral online, and the arrest made national headlines.

SB 202 reduces voting access in some ways and increases it in others. The law requires new forms of identification for absentee voters, limits drop boxes and reduces early voting for runoffs. But it increases early voting for general elections by requiring a second Saturday of voting statewide.

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The Georgia State Patrol charged Cannon with two felonies: obstruction of law enforcement and disrupting General Assembly sessions. If convicted, she could serve up to eight years in prison.

A Georgia State Patrol lieutenant said in an incident report that memories of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol “were in the back of my mind” when he arrested Cannon. He said he was worried that other protesters would have been “emboldened” to follow Cannon’s lead if he didn’t arrest her after she refused his requests to stop knocking on the door of Kemp’s private second-floor office in the Georgia Capitol.

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Another officer said he was inside Kemp’s office when a staffer told him “the crowd was attempting to breach the wooden doors” that Cannon had been knocking.

Witnesses interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, said there was no attempt to “breach” the doorway.

“Nobody touched that door. We didn’t go anywhere near that door. We followed the police officers who were taking Park into the elevator,” said Tamara Stevens, an activist who was with Cannon and filmed the encounter. “There was no attempt, flat out, to breach the door.”

The Georgia Constitution says legislators are “free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for charges of treason, felonies or breach of the peace.

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David Dreyer, who is one of the attorneys representing Cannon, said he believes Cannon will be “vindicated.” Dreyer, who also is a Democratic state representative from Atlanta, has some experience with legislators who’ve been arrested while at the Georgia Capitol.

Dreyer represented then state Sen. Nikema Williams when she was arrested in 2018 on similar charges during a protest urging officials to tally all absentee and provisional ballots before declaring Kemp the winner in a close election for governor.

The charges were later dropped, and Williams, now a U.S. House member, filed a federal lawsuit seeking to bar further use of the law used to arrest her.

Cannon said the physical and emotional pain of her arrest linger, but her focus is on continuing to fight against legislation like SB 202.

“When I see the photo of Kemp strategically positioned under a disgraceful painting of a South Georgia plantation, flanked by a group of six white legislators, all male, in one stroke of the pen I am reminded how important it is to stay focused on the issue at hand,” she said. “Voter suppression in Georgia is alive today.”

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