Queer Georgia lawmaker speaks out about ‘painful’ arrest

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State police officers who arrested Rep. Park Cannon for knocking on the governor’s office door said they feared she was leading an insurrection like the attack on the U.S. Capitol, while Republican leaders compared her to a QAnon conspiracist in their own party who regularly denounces LGBTQ people.

Since Cannon’s arrest on March 25, state troopers who handcuffed and dragged her from the State Capitol compiled a 13-page incident report that dramatically describes the lawmaker’s actions in ways that are not substantiated by videos of the arrest. The report’s author, Lt. G.D. Langford, compared Cannon’s actions to those of the mob that violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attack that killed five people.

“The events of January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol were in the back of my mind,” Langford wrote in the report. “I didn’t want the protestors to attempt to gain entry into a secure part of the Capitol. I believed Cannon’s actions of obstructing law enforcement in front of agitated protestors to constitute a breach of the peace.”

State police charged Cannon, who is Black, with two felonies. Most of the people arrested for the attack on the U.S. Capitol – many white and none of whom were U.S. lawmakers that worked in the building – will likely face misdemeanors and no jail time, according to Politico.

Langford and other officers who contributed to the incident report accuse Cannon of stomping their feet, kicking an elevator control panel and “beating on the door.” 

“I quickly realized I was hearing yelling, screaming and loud banging against a door,” Sgt. N. Jenkins wrote in the report. “As I exited the secured front office and looked left in the direction of the loud commotion I was hearing, I observed a black female snatching at the door handle of the side door entrance into the Governor’s office.”

Video of the incident shows Cannon knocking softly on the door. A handful of people nearby, including other lawmakers, did not start shouting until after Cannon was arrested. Witnesses to the arrest and Cannon’s attorney, Gerald Griggs, have challenged the narrative law enforcement officers spelled out in their report.

The state police description of the incident comes as Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston, both Republicans, attacked Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat and one of seven LGBTQ lawmakers in the state. Ralston compared her to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia lawmaker facing a national backlash for her incendiary social media posts and attacks on transgender people. Kemp criticized Cannon for disrupting his press conference in which he was signing a controversial elections bill into law.

Ralston chastised Cannon in an interview with the AJC after the legislative session ended Wednesday.

“I’m being respectful when I say this,” he told the media outlet. “Some people go to the legislative body not to legislate. Marjorie Taylor Green is a good example. And on the other side Park Cannon is a good example.”

Kemp took issue with Cannon during an interview on Monday with WSB Radio host Erick Erickson. The conservative pundit has a long history of anti-LGBTQ comments.

“I think it was just trying to distract and really to steer away to have an issue that was tied to this because they can’t truthfully look at you and say this takes away the ability to vote early,” Kemp said.

Kemp said the incident provided Democrats with “something else to rally behind.” He also referenced the U.S. Capitol attack in January.

“A lot of these folks that were outraged over this are the same ones that wanted to make sure that when we started the session, that things were going to be safe around here because what they’d seen in Washington, D.C. Our folks here at the Capitol, we want to have a safe environment for everyone,” Kemp said.

“You should be able to come to the Capitol and have a peaceful environment, not be disrupted. We have a long history of not disrupting processes, whether it’s in the legislative chamber and the governor’s office or, you know, when people are holding press conferences out there in the public spaces at the Capitol. And that’s the way it should be,” he added. 

‘A horrible experience’

Cannon returned to the State Capitol on Monday with a solemn processional that included Martin Luther King III, Griggs, lawmakers and other supporters. Some wore black t-shirts emblazoned with “Stand With Park.” Cannon’s left arm was in a sling.

“For her safety, Rep. Cannon took some time to heal in private,” Kip Dunlap, Cannon’s chief aide, said in an email to supporters on Thursday. “She has been recovering from the arrest, supported by her family and partner. She took a break from social media for her health as well and asked our team to do the same. She also began consulting her legal team.”

On Thursday, supporters of Cannon launched an online legal defense fund. By noon on Friday, donations reached nearly $35,000 of the effort’s $50,000 goal.

Cannon also spoke out Thursday during a press conference and in interviews with national media outlets. The lawmaker said she wanted to be present at Kemp’s bill signing, which was held behind closed doors. 

“At that moment, I had no clue what was happening. And I am not ashamed to admit that I was afraid of what might happen,” Cannon said. 

“My experience was painful both physically and emotionally,” she added.

Cannon, a state lawmaker since 2016, said she faces up to eight years in prison if convicted of the two felonies. 

“But today I stand before you to say that as horrible as that experience was and 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,” she said.

Cannon blasted the legislation as “nefarious” and pointed to the image of Kemp signing the bill flanked by six white lawmakers underneath a painting of Calloway Plantation, a former slave plantation in northeast Georgia. Critics of the legislation have cited its impact on Black voters and called it “Jim Crow 2.0.”

“When I see the photo of Kemp in his office perched at his desk 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, the issue at hand. Voter suppression in Georgia is alive,” she said.

Cannon, in an interview with MSNBC, said she didn’t understand why troopers were arresting her.

“The only thing etched in my mind are two things. Why were they arresting me. Why were they doing that and the photo of six all-white men under a photo of a plantation taking away Black and Brown voters’ rights as well as all voters’ rights,” Cannon said.

“This is America, and we have to keep on knocking,” she added.

LGBTQ organizations denounced Cannon’s arrest.

The National Black Justice Coalition called for the charges to be dropped and lobbied the PGA to pull the Masters Tournament in response to the elections law signed by Kemp. The Masters is scheduled to begin April 8 at the Augusta National Golf Club. Other critics of the new law called on Major League Baseball to pull the All-Star Game set for July 13 hosted by the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park.

“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 NBJC’s executive director, said in a prepared statement.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute also condemned Cannon’s arrest.

“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, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a press 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. We proudly stand with Rep. Cannon and demand all charges against her be dropped,” Parker added.

Cannon is now among several Black female lawmakers arrested in the U.S. during protests, according to The 19th. At least three of the arrests took place in Georgia.

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