The Racist Arrest of Park Cannon

I don’t mind telling you that I have been fangirling on Rep. Park Cannon since long before she single-handedly enraged the entire GOP establishment by politely knocking on a door.

In the summer of 2017, my daughter Mary wrote to me from camp.

That’s it, that’s the sentence. In nine years of summer camp, she never wrote to me, except for that summer. 

The dining room tables were assigned, and Mary shared one with the camp’s office manager, a Black woman whose wisdom set Mary afire. 

“Black women didn’t achieve the vote until the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” Mary wrote, “so we need to stop saying women got the vote in 1920.”

The school-to-prison pipeline, the fetishization of Black women’s bodies, the real meaning of equality, the racist origins of contemporary poverty and wealth … Mary would never be the same. 

Mary’s dining companion was in fact Georgia Representative Park Cannon, a veteran camper and counselor who’d decided to take the summer off from her busy legislative calendar to come home to the green hills and silver waters. At just 24 years old, she was the youngest elected official in the state’s history.

After that summer, I followed Rep. Cannon’s political career with delight. Live feeds from church picnics and Pride gatherings, instructions in English and Spanish for accessing resources for the elderly and poor, briefings on maternal wellness, alerts for upcoming legislation that threatened or supported the community; and always, always, Rep. Cannon out front, speaking for the people of Atlanta’s 58th District.

Election time, and here’s Rep. Cannon canvassing poor neighborhoods; giving a speech; getting people to the polls.

I watched from afar, a doting Yankee camp Mommy; an admiring American. Rep. Cannon held the Republic in good hands. She was exactly whom the Founders of this country had in mind when they created government for, of, and by the people.

If you ignored her gender, orientation, and race.

On November 3, 2020, Rep. Cannon and a posse of Georgia Black women legislators delivered this country from Donald Trump — the right way, the old-fashioned way: with the vote. They mobilized the Black community against the leader of an administration that had worked directly against their interests, and they defeated him. 

So, naturally, the Trump cadre responded by working to take away their vote, with the passage of a massive Georgia voter reform law.

Political scientists can argue all they want about whether or not the Georgia voting act reverses the gains of Black voters — the fact that it was passed by the Republican party on the heels of the Trump loss is sufficient evidence that this was its purpose.

I was doing my usual Facebook scroll, sipping tea, thinking about getting ready for bed, when up popped Park Cannon, live in my feed, from the Atlanta Capitol where she works.

Delighted and amused, I watched while the camera followed her striding up to the governor’s door and knocking.  A state police trooper approached her. She leveled a long hard look at him; I chortled.

And then a flicker of something cold and dark in my heart, new to me, but ancient in America. 

Get away from him, Park, I thought. Please just walk away.

She knocked again, of course.

Two huge white men in uniform.

They bend her arms at the elbows, bring her wrists together behind her back. She is in cuffs. And they are dragging her. Two more officers arrive — also absurdly gigantic white men. 

Reassuring self-talk: She’s fine, Liz. She’s not hurt.

Self-talk meets reality: Sandra Bland was not fine.

A single frame frozen in my memory: Park, tiny and fierce, in an elevator full of men, hands bound behind her.

No woman is comfortable alone in an elevator full of men, much less a Black woman, with armed white men, while shackled. 

Before the door shuts, I catch a glimpse of a trooper brandishing a taser.

Why was Rep. Cannon knocking on the governor’s door?

Because behind that door, the governor was signing the voting bill into law. As the Democratic Caucus secretary, Rep. Cannon regularly attends bill signings as the witness of record for 4 million people.

She was supposed to be there.

There are not two sides to this story. There are not multiple truths or equally valid viewpoints: her arrest was a racist act against a sitting member of the Georgia legislature. It was also a violation of the rights of her (mostly Black) constituents. 

Park’s arrest — and two pending felony charges carrying a possible sentence of eight years’ imprisonment — reveals the unspoken fear all white people have of Black rage, Black retribution, Black power.

Park wasn’t arrested because she was threatening, physically. She was arrested because she was threatening culturally and politically.

How do I know this? You know how.

The time has come for white people to acknowledge how very hard even the nicest of us will work to keep our world as we knew it.

I don’t know what was in those troopers’ hearts when they handcuffed Park. I don’t know what they intended. But I know that white refusal to call their actions racist is rooted in a terror of facing ourselves.

White people are not without pain and loss in this time of reckoning. It is excruciating to accept that I and my grandparents and their grandparents have benefited from systemic, generational cruelty to Black people — especially when we know racism is abhorrent.

This is why several million of our closest white friends utterly lost their shit over changes to a syrup package. It wasn’t out of a passionate sentimental attachment to Aunt Jemima; it was out of a desperate need to avoid conceding that generations of us had adorned our breakfast tables with a cruel and racist image.

This is white supremacy: our desire to shield ourselves from pain leads us to ignore the constant daily mistreatment of our Black countrymen — a situation that we have the power to change.

When a lawmaker walks up the stairs of the building in which she works to knock on the Governor’s door in the course of her workday, the correct response is to open it: “Good afternoon, ma’am. I’ll let the governor know you’re here.” 

I stand with Park Cannon. If you don’t, you’re on the wrong side.

Click on the image below to contribute to Park’s legal defense fund. Even a few dollars lets her know you are standing with her:


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