A Georgia lawmaker who joined a group of protesters amid lingering turmoil over the state’s contentious gubernatorial election said she was arrested and singled out because of her race.
The first-term senator said she was attending a special Senate session on Tuesday morning when she saw the protesters in the rotunda and decided to join them. A video shared on Facebook by an advocacy group showed police officers trying to disperse the crowd and arresting some of the protesters. Williams can be seen locking arms with protesters before police arrested her.
She was charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer and preventing or disrupting general assembly sessions or other meetings of members, jail records show. Both are misdemeanors.
“I was singled out as a black female senator standing in the rotunda with constituents in the Capitol, a body that I serve in, and I was singled out and arrested today for standing with so many Georgians who are demanding that every vote be counted,” Williams told reporters after she was released on a $3,000 bond.
In addressing the state Senate chamber Wednesday, Williams said she did not expect to be arrested.
“Justice was not upheld yesterday. I didn’t put on my to-do list to get arrested yesterday. I did not plan to go to the Fulton County Jail and take my clothes off and get strip searched,” she said.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety, which oversees Capitol Police, said 15 people, including Williams, were arrested. The department points to parts of state law that don’t allow disrupting legislative sessions or other meetings of lawmakers. The agency said the protesters were asked to disperse three times, and those who refused to do so were arrested.
Asked to comment on Williams’s claims she was singled out because of her race and gender, the department said, “She was arrested for violating Georgia law.”
The protests come amid growing uncertainty over thousands of provisional ballots voters were forced to cast last week. A federal judge has barred the Georgia secretary of state’s office from certifying election results to allow more time for voters to determine whether their provisional ballots had been counted. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered election officials to create a system that would allow voters to find out if their votes had been counted and, if not, to be told why.
Voters are given provisional ballots if their registrations do not show up in voter rolls at their precincts or if they do not have proper identification.
The ruling has added more tension in the governor’s race between Democrat Stacey Abrams, who ran to be Georgia’s first black governor, and Republican Brian Kemp, who faced criticisms for staying in office as secretary of state — Georgia’s top election official — while he’s running.
Voting rights advocates have accused Kemp and other election officials of disenfranchising thousands of voters on Election Day. Hundreds complained about long lines, broken equipment and a shortage of voting machines and provisional ballots. Advocates said there were hundreds of calls from voters who said their requests for absentee ballots were unanswered ― and that many of these complaints came from communities with large minority populations.
Kemp, who is leading by about 59,000 votes, declared victory last week even though thousands of absentee and provisional ballots had not been counted, and even as his lead narrowed. Abrams is still hoping to force a runoff.
Protesters who showed up at the state Capitol Tuesday held signs that said “Count Every Vote.”
Georgia House Democrats said Williams’s arrest was “beyond troubling."
“Even more troubling that it is in conjunction with a citizen speech about counting every vote,” the caucus said in a statement on Twitter.
State Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta) agreed Williams was unfairly treated by police. He told reporters he, too, went to the rotunda around the same time Williams did and for the same reasons she did. He was not arrested.
“For some reason, Senator Williams was treated differently than I was treated,” Dreyer said.
Vanessa Williams, Amy Gardner, Beth Reinhard and Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.