Raphael Warnock, a senator from the US state of Georgia, condemned the arrest of state representative Park Cannon, who was handcuffed and forcibly removed Thursday from the Georgia State Capitol after she sought entry to the governor’s office as he signed a sweeping overhaul of state election law.
Multiple videos posted online show Georgia State Patrol officers arresting Ms Cannon, a Democrat, after she knocked on the door of Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s office, even as onlookers identified her repeatedly as a representative.
Ms Cannon, a black woman, was taken into custody by several white officers, fuelling claims that black protesters are treated more harshly by law enforcement than white demonstrators.
“Today is a very sad day for the state of Georgia,” Mr Warnock, who said he is Ms Park’s pastor, told reporters Thursday night outside the Fulton County Jail, according to video posted by WGCL-TV, an Atlanta-based CBS affiliate.
“What we have witnessed today is a desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy.”
The incident could increase pressure US President Joe Biden is already facing from his party’s left wing to wage an all-out defence of voting rights and support of a proposed federal law that would make voting easier across the board.
Mr Biden condemned the new law as "a blatant attack on the constitution and good conscience".
In a statement, Mr Biden described the law, which the state's Republican-dominated legislature approved this week, as a 21st century version of the so-called Jim Crow laws once used to suppress the voting rights of African Americans.
Republican-held statehouses are pursuing restrictions that could fall heaviest on black voters who helped Democrats win the White House and both chambers of Congress.
Ms Cannon, who opposes the new Georgia law, can be seen in one video continuing to knock on Mr Kemp’s office door after the officers asked her to stop. An officer then places her under arrest and several officers forcibly move her into an elevator, as supporters protest.
She was charged with one count of obstructing law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence, a felony, and one count of preventing or disrupting a legislative session, according to Fulton County jail records.
Democrats and voting rights activists have blasted the Georgia bill, which passed on a party-line vote, as an effort to suppress votes following Democrats’ gains in the state in last year’s presidential and US Senate races. Supporters have said the law will as restore “integrity” after unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“This effort to silence the voices of Georgians who stood up in a historic election in November and January will not stand,” Mr Warnock said.
“The goal of voter suppression is to so demoralise the electorate that people don’t even bother to try. But that will not happen.”
The new law requires identification for mail-in absentee voting for the first time, shortens the time for run-offs from nine weeks to four, cuts the window for requesting mail ballots and restricts the use of ballot drop boxes that eased voting during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Georgia’s elections chief was sued by a group of non-profit civic organisations that claim the new voting law signed by the state’s Republican governor will make it harder for minorities to cast ballots.
The lawsuit, against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, is one of the first challenges to a wave of voting restrictions taking shape in state legislatures across the country.
It was filed late Thursday, right after the law passed, by groups including the New Georgia Project and the Black Voters Matter Fund.
“Georgia has a long and egregious history of implementing election laws that hinder black and minority citizens’ ability to participate equally in the political process,” the groups said in the complaint, which names other officials as well.
Republican lawmakers say Georgia’s new restrictions are necessary because of voter fraud during the 2020 election, an argument their party is making in a number of states to push for tighter rules on voting.
Critics of that argument point out that dozens of federal judges and William Barr, the US attorney general at the time, found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and contend that the rules are meant to suppress the minority vote.
It was a pair of run-off elections in Georgia that gave the Democrats control of the Senate. On January 5, high turnout among black voters drove the twin victories of Mr Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff, stripping the Senate from Republican hands.
The law is “a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early and election-day voting more difficult – especially for minority voters,” according to the complaint.
As for Mr Kemp’s assertion that the law is needed to restore confidence in the election system, the groups say it was the false claims of fraud spread by former president Donald Trump and his supporters that gave rise to such doubts in the first place.
“To the extent there are concerns about voters’ ‘confidence’ in Georgia’s elections, they are the result of a cynical and thoroughly rebuked misinformation campaign – not based in reality,” according to the lawsuit.