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Rep. Hank Johnson arrested at ‘Black Voters Matter’ protest for voting rights

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) was arrested with a group of activists during a voting rights legislation and filibuster reform protest on July 22. (Video: Office of Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.))

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) was arrested Thursday at a voting rights protest on Capitol Hill, making him the second Democratic member of Congress in a week to be detained while demonstrating in support of federal voting legislation.

Johnson had been attending a “Brothers Day of Action on Capitol Hill” protest organized by the nonprofit group Black Voters Matter. Video footage from the event showed Johnson and others linking arms and lined up outside the Hart Senate Office Building, chanting “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The filibuster has got to go!” The peaceful protest was filmed by several journalists, who later captured Johnson and several other activists being handcuffed and detained.

U.S. Capitol Police confirmed they arrested 10 people Thursday for “unlawfully demonstrating outside of the Hart Senate Office Building,” and charged them all with “crowding, obstructing or incommoding.” All have since been processed and released, police said.

Johnson’s office confirmed the congressman was among those arrested Thursday, and that he had been protesting “voter suppression bills and laws throughout the country, including Georgia, that target students, the elderly and people of color.”

“In the spirit of his dear friend and mentor — the late Congressman John Lewis — Rep. Johnson was getting in ‘good trouble’ fighting for and protecting civil and voting rights for all Americans,” Johnson spokesman Andy Phelan said in a statement.

Johnson and others were demonstrating to push Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The former would implement standards for voter access and revamp rules on campaign finance and ethics, while the latter would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Activists and Democratic state lawmakers have implored Congress to pass federal voting legislation, as GOP-led state legislatures and Republican governors have enacted or tried to enact voting restrictions across the country.

In March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed into law a restrictive voting bill that curtails the use of drop boxes and imposes new ID requirements for mail voting. The state faced immediate blowback from Democrats and civil rights groups, as well as economic consequences as corporations spoke out against the bill.

Republican state lawmakers in Texas have also been trying to pass new voting restrictions, only to have Texas House Democrats stage dramatic walkouts on two separate occasions to break quorum and stymie Republicans’ efforts.

Earlier this week, more than 75 people — many of them poor and low-income women — were arrested at a rally outside the Supreme Court in which they demonstrated in support of voting and workers’ rights. Last week, Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was detained at a similar protest in which she and other activists called for the passage of federal voting legislation and for abolishing the filibuster, the Senate rule that requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass.

“I stand in solidarity with Black women and allies across the country in defense of our constitutional right to vote,” Beatty said in a statement after her arrest. “We have come too far and fought too hard to see everything systematically dismantled and restricted by those who wish to silence us. Be assured this is just the beginning. This is our power. Our message.”

Vanessa Williams contributed to this report.

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