LGBTQ lawmaker arrested, dragged from State Capitol

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Georgia state troopers arrested and forcibly removed state Rep. Park Cannon from the Gold Dome Thursday as she interrupted Gov. Brian Kemp during the signing of a massive elections bill that critics derided as an effort to disenfranchise voters.

Cannon faces two felony charges – willful obstruction of law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence and preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members – third offense. Troopers transported Cannon to the Fulton County Jail after she was arrested. 

A crowd of supporters chanted “Free Park Cannon” outside the jail and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock visited Cannon before she was released on a signature bond. LGBTQ attorney and Democratic activist Dennis Collard launched a legal defense fund for Cannon. By Friday morning, the effort raised $4,230 of its $5,000 goal.

Cannon’s arrest – her second confrontation with troopers during the legislative session this year – sparked outrage among supporters and overshadowed a victory lap by Kemp and Republicans who engineered the elections legislation. Kemp signed Senate Bill 202 into law Thursday shortly after lawmakers approved it on party-line votes.

Early Friday, Cannon – an Atlanta Democrat – thanked supporters. 

“Hey everyone, thank you for your support. I’ve been released from jail. 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,” Cannon said in a tweet.

“But someday soon that last person will step out of jail for the last time and breathe a first breath knowing that no one will be jailed again for fighting for the right to vote,” she added.

The arrest unfolded about 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, according to arrest warrants obtained by the AJC. Cannon was arrested after “knowingly and intentionally” knocking on the door to the governor’s office as Kemp signed the bill, according to an affidavit by Capitol police Officer E. Dorval.

Video of the incident shows Cannon approach a door to Kemp’s office suite, which was blocked by a state trooper. Cannon and the trooper exchange words that are inaudible on the video. Cannon then knocks. Two troopers grab Cannon, pull her arms behind her back and handcuff her. Cannon, a Black woman, was then taken away from the door and escorted – sometimes dragged – to an elevator and then outside the State Capitol by several white male troopers as supporters questioned her arrest. 

A video of the incident has been viewed more than 2.2 million times on Twitter.

Outside the State Capitol, Cannon was forcibly placed into a Capitol police cruiser while questioning troopers. A video shows at least six surrounding her. A single Black female Capitol police officer is standing nearby.

“Tell me where I am going and why I am being arrested,” Cannon asks.

Troopers attempt to push Cannon inside the police cruiser.

“Do not push my stomach,” Cannon says.

“Ma’am, get in the car,” a trooper responds.

“My arms hurt terribly. I do not understand why I am being arrested,” Cannon says.

The arrest warrants allege that Cannon assaulted one of the troopers arresting her. 

Cannon was “stomping on Lt. Langford foot three times during the apprehension and as she was being escorted out of the property,” according to the affidavit. The lawmaker “continued on kicking Lt. Langford with her heels.”

The portions of Cannon’s arrest captured on video do not show her stepping on the feet of law enforcement officers. 

State troopers forcibly put state Rep. Park Cannon into a police cruiser outside the State Capitol. (Image via video courtesy state Rep. Renitta Shannon)

Supporters denounce Cannon’s arrest

LGBTQ colleagues at the State Capitol – Cannon is one of seven queer state lawmakers – criticized the arrest. 

“Today [Park Cannon] was arrested for only doing her job,” state Rep. Renitta Shannon said in a tweet. “We are at the jail awaiting her release.”

Shannon, a Decatur Democrat. said the bill is “voter suppression on steroids” and accused supporters of the legislation of targeting Black voters.

State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat, called Cannon’s arrest “beyond unacceptable.”

“The arrest of my friend and colleague, Rep. Park Cannon, at the Capitol last night was beyond unacceptable,” Wilson tweeted.

Outside the jail late Thursday, Warnock denounced the arrest and the elections bill as “a very sad day for the State of Georgia.”

“What we have witnessed today is a desperate attempt to lockout and squeeze the people out of their own democracy. And in this effort, in this case, they are literally being locked down,” Warnock said. 

“She is an outstanding public servant. We are praying for her. We are praying for her family. We are praying also for Georgia and the soul of our democracy.”

Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, is Cannon’s pastor. Cannon was among a lengthy list of LGBTQ elected officials and advocates that supported his election to the U.S. Senate in January.

Stacey Abrams, a former state lawmaker who founded a coalition of organizations fighting for voting rights, called Cannon’s arrest a reminder of Georgia’s “dark past.”

“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. We must fight for the future of our democracy,” Abrams said in a tweet.

Several voting organizations – including the New Georgia Project founded by Abrams – filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday to block the bill.

Kemp signed the bill Thursday less than an hour after lawmakers passed it. Cannon’s arrest interrupted Kemp as he delivered remarks during a live-streamed event that was closed to the public.

“I was proud to sign S.B. 202 to ensure elections in Georgia are secure, fair, and accessible. I appreciate the hard work of members of the General Assembly to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Kemp said in a tweet.

The bill adds new ID requirements for absentee ballots, limits ballot drop boxes, bans handing out food and water to voters, limits early voting and allows the State Elections Board to replace county panels that run elections. The measure also expands weekend voting before general elections.

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