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Georgia state Democratic lawmaker arrested while trying to watch Gov. Kemp sign voting bill

Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon (D) was arrested on March 25 after trying to watch Gov. Brian Kemp (R) sign a new voting bill into law. (Video: Tamara Stevens via Storyful)

Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon (D) was arrested Thursday after trying to watch Gov. Brian Kemp (R) sign a controversial new voting bill into law, authorities said, in a heated interaction that was caught on video.

Facebook Live video shows Cannon knocking on the door to Kemp’s office as he was holding a news conference inside about SB 202, a sweeping set of restrictions on how ballots are cast and counted in Georgia.

Georgia governor signs into law sweeping voting bill that curtails the use of drop boxes and imposes new ID requirements for mail voting

“She wasn’t banging on the door,” Tamara Stevens, an activist who filmed the video while protesting the bill, told The Washington Post late Thursday night.

“A capitol officer came over and said, ‘Don’t knock on my door,’ and she’s like, ‘Well, are they in there signing the bill?’ and he’s like, ‘Don’t knock on the door.’ And it was at that point that I started filming.”

In a statement to The Post, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Safety confirmed that Cannon was arrested for obstructing law enforcement and preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.

Cannon’s pastor, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), visited Cannon in Fulton County Jail as she was released on Thursday night. Speaking to reporters outside the facility, he criticized both her arrest and the provisions of the bill, SB 202.

“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.”

The newly signed law, among other restrictions, imposes identification requirements for mail ballots and makes it a crime for third-party groups to hand out food and water to voters standing in line. While proponents have said it is necessary to shore up confidence in Georgia’s elections, critics countered that it will lead to longer lines, partisan control of elections and more difficulties voting by mail.

“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 tweeted early on Friday. “Who -- and what -- are they protecting when they work this hard to suppress our vote?”

Civil rights lawyer Gerald Griggs said he would be “vigorously” defending the state lawmaker against the charges, both of which are felony offenses. He noted on Twitter that the Georgia state Constitution dictates that legislators “shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.

“It appears that there was overreach by law enforcement,” he said.

In Stevens’s video, two state troopers can be seen hovering by Cannon, who at one point steps back from the door to take some hand sanitizer from a nearby dispenser.

When she approaches the door and knocks on it again, one of the officers tells her, “You’re under arrest,” to the outrage of a group accompanying the lawmaker.

“At no time was anyone yelling. We weren’t chanting,” Stevens said. “It’s amazing how the Republican Party is threatened by the voters and the legislators in Georgia, and the disrespect that was shown a Black woman who is an elected official is shameful.”

Police said that, shortly after 6:30 p.m., Cannon was seen “beating on the door” to the governor’s office inside the statehouse — though available video of the incident showed Cannon knocking on the door normally.

“This door is marked off with stanchions and a ‘Governor’s Staff Only’ sign,” the police statement continued, but “Rep. Cannon went inside the stanchions and began knocking on the door” as Kemp was holding a news conference inside.

A live stream of Kemp’s news conference abruptly cut off about seven minutes into the event. Instagram Live video taken by Hannah Joy Gebresilassie, an independent journalist, shows two officers forcing Cannon through the state Capitol and into an elevator. A small group followed them, shouting, “Why are you arresting her?” and “What did she do?”

In that video, members of the group who were defending Cannon said they were simply trying to watch Kemp sign the bill.

“She did not touch anybody! She did not say any slanderous words,” Georgia state Rep. Erica Thomas (D) shouted. “But you’re going to tell me that you arrested a sitting state representative for nothing! She didn’t do anything but knock on the governor’s door. I’m done! I’m so done! I’m so done. Protect and serve who?”

SB 202 is one of the first major voting bills to pass as dozens of state legislatures consider such restrictions in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, when President Donald Trump baselessly attacked the integrity of election results in six states he lost, including Georgia.

The new law also curtails the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots; allows electors to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters and requires counties to hold hearings on such challenges within 10 days; blocks the use of mobile voting vans, as Fulton County did last year after purchasing two vehicles at a cost of more than $700,000; and prevents local governments from directly accepting grants from the private sector.

On Twitter, Cannon had called the bill “Jim Crow in a suit and tie,” saying that “it selectively removes all of the levers trump was unable to pull to overturn the will of the people of Georgia.”

Amy Gardner contributed to this report.