Updated at 6 p.m. Friday
A group of Georgia Democrats held a two-hour sit-in Friday on a stairway at the state Capitol after one Democratic lawmaker said it was improper that a police officer had physically moved her away while Democrats were protesting bills that would restrict voting and elections.
The move was another reflection of how raw tensions are over Republican efforts to change the state’s voting and election laws.
House Bill 531, a sweeping bill that would make multiple changes to restrict voting, could come up for a vote as soon as Monday, with the NAACP and other groups calling for protesters to descend on the Capitol. Earlier this week, one of the most senior Democratic state lawmakers cried so heavily during a floor speech promising to fight GOP efforts that he had to mop away tears with a handkerchief.
Some Democrats had hoped to give brief speeches Friday in the House criticizing the bill but were not called on by Republican House Speaker David Ralston. During a lunch break they instead protested in the atrium of the Capitol.
Using a bullhorn, a state trooper told those gathered, “You must disperse immediately or you will be arrested,” citing a state law that allows arrests for disruptive protests at the Capitol. Democratic Rep. Park Cannon of Atlanta approached the officer and put her ear up to the bullhorn, blocking it. Another officer moved her away by the arm, telling her to “step aside.” Cannon later described what happened as being pushed.
Cannon demanded a public apology from the officer and began shouting complaints that quickly evolved into an attack on the voting bills.
“What the state of Georgia has not said is what are we going to do to shore up your rights to vote,” Cannon said later.
She sat down and a group of more than a dozen Democrats, mostly House members, then sat down on the steps to join Cannon’s protest. Tensions cooled as officers left the scene, but Democrats remained on the steps, eating lunch, taking pictures, sending social media messages and leaving an aisle open for traffic.
“If you want to disrespect Black women lawmakers in front of the public, when we’re all watching, you can apologize while we’re all watching,” Park said after lawmakers ended the sit-in.
She said she had refused an offer of a private apology, denying that the protest was disruptive or violated the law.
Georgia’s Senate Republican Caucus tweeted disapproval of Cannon for “instigating conflict.”
“The disrespect for law enforcement is clear and disheartening. This is not productive protest,” the caucus tweeted, adding that Cannon “should apologize to State Patrol who keep her, and the members pictured, safe every day.”