Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has declined to prosecute a Black member of the Georgia General Assembly who was arrested by a group of white Georgia State Patrol officers for knocking on Governor Brian Kemp’s (R) door late last month.
“After reviewing all of the evidence, I have decided to close this matter,” Willis said in a statement. “It will not be presented to a grand jury for consideration of indictment, and it is now closed.”
Rep. Park Cannon (D), who represents parts of Fulton and DeKalb counties in the lower house, was taken into custody during a protest against Georgia’s Election Integrity Act of 2021, a nationally controversial piece of legislation that has been likened to the reintroduction of Jim Crow-style voting impediments in the Peach State.
Georgia Republicans moved to revamp their state’s voting laws after President Joe Biden defeated former president Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Special elections for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats also later went to Democratic Party candidates in similarly close but clear races. After increased Black voting benefited Democrats, the GOP moved to rewrite the rules in their favor. Republican majorities in both chambers quickly passed the measure on a party-line vote.
As Kemp was signing the bill into law, Cannon repeatedly knocked on the governor’s office door. After being asked to stop knocking twice by law enforcement, the Black legislator was arrested for the alleged crime of “Preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.”
“I didn’t want the protestors to attempt to gain entry into a secure part of the Capitol,” Lieutenant. G.D. Langford wrote in a 13-page arrest report. “I believed Cannon’s actions of obstructing law enforcement in front of agitated protestors to constitute a breach of the peace.”
“She was advised that she was disturbing what was going on inside and if she did not stop, she would be placed under arrest,” Georgia State Patrol spokesperson Lieutenant W. Mark Riley said during an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution defending the officers’ actions. “Rep. Cannon refused to stop knocking on the door.”
The high-profile arrest put a spotlight on the already extant racist overtones of the GOP’s perceived sour grapes legislation.
Backlash quickly followed against the bill and the officers who led Rep. Cannon through crowds of onlookers as she shouted about her rights being violated. Commentators across the country drew comparisons to the bitter and heroic Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.
“She knew he was signing a bill that would affect all Georgians — why would he hide behind closed doors? This isn’t a monarchy,” activist Tamara Stevens, who was also protesting the legislation told the Journal-Constitution. “You have a women of color fighting for the rights of Georgians and they arrested her for knocking on the door because she wanted to witness our governor sign the bill.”
Cannon’s family started a legal defense fund after the arrest, which, at the time of this writing, had amassed nearly $90,000 in contributions.
The legislator went on to wage a vigorous public campaign in her defense as well.
“While some of Representative Cannon’s colleagues and the police officers involved may have found her behavior annoying, such sentiment does not justify a presentment to a grand jury of the allegations in the arrest warrants or any other felony charges,” Willis said in her Wednesday statement.
Park, in response, tweeted: “Doors of injustice are everywhere and we cannot stop knocking.”
“Facts and evidence showed to the world that [Rep. Cannon] committed no crime and should not have ever been arrested,” the lawmaker’s attorney Gerald A. Griggs tweeted after the decision not to purse the charges was made. “We thank the district attorney for her thorough review of the evidence and are weighing our next legal actions.”
[image via screengrab from WXIA-TV/YouTube]
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