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    We Hear You Knocking, Sister Park Cannon

    By Andrea Shorter–

    With the opening of the trial of the century underway, including the emotional testimonials of affected, traumatized witnesses to the horrific homicide of George Floyd at the hands and literally under the knee of defendant Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, social media, texts, and even old-fashioned phone calling were connecting millions of viewers in real-time to process with friends and families the proceedings as prosecutors presented even more, lengthier, and different angled multiple video exhibits related to, or of, the actual murderous excessive force that ended George Floyd’s life first seen ‘round the world in May of 2020.

    “Just checking in. How are you doing? I’m having a hard time.” “It’s hard to see video over and over again. I can only imagine what it is like for the witnesses.” “If Chauvin isn’t found guilty, or if there is a mistrial, there is no justice, no peace.” These are just bits of the sentiment, caution, and hopes for justice in what should be a clear-cut case.

    Three days before the trial began in Minneapolis, a less overwhelming but nevertheless significant flurry of texts poured out concerning the evening news video capture of another troubled moment in the making at the Georgia State Capitol: state troopers arrested a young Black woman knocking on the door for entry into the governor’s locked conference room as he signed voter suppression into law, ceremoniously flanked by a clan of all white male legislators, all perfectly staged in front of a painting of a grand old plantation of times past, yet still very present. There was not a single woman, person of color, or LGBTQ person in that room. 

    Staged as much of a lock out as a lock in, the moment of exclusion of such diverse others was undeniably by design, to sport the very purpose of the Jim Crow-era revival law itself. Governor Kemp’s signature wasn’t a deadly force of a knee on a neck, but, make no mistake, the law aims to place a stranglehold on the voting rights of Black and other non-white, non-Republican voters in the Peach State.

    When the video went viral, social media and texts responded: “Did you see this? Who is she?” “WTH—she was arrested for knocking on a door?! No way.” 

    She is Park Cannon. In 2016, at age 24, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. State Representative Cannon is Black. Like the late Congressman John Lewis, she is also a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, once led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., his son Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., and currently recently elected U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock.

    State Representative Cannon is also queer.

    Yes, it was a young, openly gay Black lawmaker who knocked on the governor’s door attempting to gain entry to witness and record the bill signing as she has routinely done as a minority caucus secretary at other legislative happenings and bill signings. Her attempt to gain entry into the room where it was happening—not as a violent insurrectionist—was apparently enough cause for state troopers to immediately accost her, put her in handcuffs, and place her under arrest. State Representative Cannon now faces up to eight years in prison for allegedly disrupting a General Assembly session, and for threats of violence (stumbled on, stepped on his feet) against one of the arresting officers.

    The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama is some 225 miles away from the George State Capitol in Atlanta. Whether by design or happenstance, Cannon’s incident was captured on video for all the world to see. As shocking as her arrest was, it was by no means as horrifying as the painful footage of the state troopers’ brutal attack and assault on peaceful marchers for African American voting rights as the marchers attempted to cross over the bridge on the Bloody Sunday of March 7, 1965. Cannon suffered injuries to her left arm and shoulder, apparently from the force of the officers’ accosting and restraints, but these injuries were certainly not the bloody head bashing from police billy clubs suffered by John Lewis on the Pettus Bridge.

    Thankfully, no blood was spilt by Cannon in the cause of protecting voting rights on March 26, 2021. The fearful feeling that Cannon’s arrest could have gone down as brutally, violently, and bloody at the hands of the Georgia state troopers in the year 2021 remains as fresh, as present, and as terrifying as it might have in 1965. That’s just the way things are in 2021—massive, violent, murderous insurrection on the U.S. Capitol by a majority white mob incited by former president Trump with little accountability for either the mob or the president versus highly possible use of excessive police force ending in severe injury or even death of a single Black person for peacefully attempting to gain entry to witness, not disrupt, a major legislative event.

    It’s hard to tell if her identification as an elected state representative, and not just a young Black woman knocking at the governor’s door while he was restricting her voting rights as a young Black woman, might have saved her from excessive aggression or force.

    Whether Georgia State Representative Cannon set out to make some good trouble that day or just arrived to carry out her duties to record the dirty deed in her role as minority caucus secretary or both, her moment will go down in Black, LGBTQ, and women’s histories.

    While it is not likely to represent a major flashpoint, it still merits notice, reference, and gratitude. After all, her very existence as a young Black queer woman, no matter where she stood—near, far, or within that state capitol building—is the disruption to the status quo Governor Kemp and his legislation conspire to prevent, suppress, and exclude. Cannon as an elected Black openly queer woman working against discrimination and fighting for equality, civil rights, and the right to vote is the status keepers worst nightmare come true. To others for whom she fights for, Cannon isthe dream come true.

    We hear you knocking, Park Cannon. We see and thank you for the good troubles you have already caused, and for the good troubles you will expectedly cause in the fight for voter rights yet to come in Georgia and beyond.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-Founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    Published on April 8, 2021