This story was originally published by the Georgia Recorder.
A group of Democratic lawmakers staged a sit-in at the state Capitol after Democratic Rep. Park Cannon objected to being physically moved aside by a state police officer during a protest over voting rights.
The interaction took place in the middle of a small but loud demonstration over GOP proposals to restrict voting began once lawmakers stopped Friday for lunch.
The emotional encounter was a sign of deepening tensions at the state Capitol as lawmakers barreled toward a vote on sweeping voting legislation Monday that spurred additional protests.
An officer was instructing the demonstrators over a bullhorn that they were violating a state law that bars any attempt to disrupt the Legislature’s work when Cannon stood directly in front of him with her head in front of the blaring bullhorn (bottom image). Another officer then approached the Atlanta lawmaker and said “Ma’am, step aside” before placing his hand on her arm to move her, leading to an outcry from Canon (top image).
The confrontation led to a nearly two-hour sit-in on a main stairwell inside the Capitol that continued as lawmakers reconvened Friday afternoon to vote on bills. Cannon said she wanted the officer to apologize.
Cannon, one of seven LGBTQ state lawmakers, told reporters afterwards that the police response to the protest was out of line because lawmakers were on break when the protest took place. She accused officers of trying to intimidate those who had gathered Friday. No arrests were made.
“Instead of becoming silenced, we sat down,” Cannon said. “We have been sitting in this state capitol for over an hour and a half at this point to make it very clear: that apology that officer wants to give me behind closed doors is no deal.
“If you want to disrespect Black women lawmakers in front of the public when we’re all watching, you can apologize while we’re all watching, and we would request, respectfully, that you put a mask on,” she said, referring to the officer’s lack of face mask.
‘Moved to the side’
Lt. W. Mark Riley, public information officer with the Georgia State Patrol, said in a statement Friday that Cannon’s actions “could be construed as obstruction of law enforcement.”
“As Troopers were attempting to read a dispersal order, Representative Cannon stepped in front of the megaphone and placed her head against it causing feedback,” he said. After being told to move, Cannon was “moved to the side so that the dispersal order could be completed.”
Republicans are considering a pile of voting bills that they say are designed to restore the public’s confidence in the state’s voting system. Former President Donald Trump spent months casting doubt on the integrity of the state’s election system and processes, with a particular focus on absentee ballots.
The Senate has already approved changes that would require Georgians who cast an absentee ballot to verify their identity using a government ID. The House on Monday passed a bill packed with voting restrictions.
#BREAKING: Confusion at the State Capitol after some lawmakers joined in with a protest against HB 531 and a state trooper touched Rep. Park Cannon after she stood in front of a bullhorn. @FOX5Atlanta #gapol pic.twitter.com/jlkOM5lsZd
— Claire Simms (@Claire_FOX5) February 26, 2021