Georgia state Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta) was arrested along with more than a dozen other protesters at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday afternoon at a demonstration asking the state to “count every vote” from last week’s gubernatorial election. Protesters shouted “Let her go!” as Williams was handcuffed while the General Assembly was in session.
Williams, a civil rights advocate who organized domestic workers for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice and spent about six hours at Fulton County Jail in Atlanta.
“There are countless Georgians who cast their ballots and still don’t feel like their voices are heard,” she said in a statement after being released. “I joined them down on the floor, and I was singled out as a Black female senator standing in the rotunda with constituents.”
One of Williams’ white male colleagues, state Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta), went to the same protest with Williams for the same reason and was not arrested. He stood outside the jail after her arrest and spoke out about Williams’ unfair treatment by Capitol police.
Dreyer said he went down to the Capitol about the same time as Williams, “but for some reason, Sen. Williams was treated differently than I was treated.”
Dreyer noted the statistic that one in three black men and one in 18 black women will be incarcerated at some time in their lives.
“Because of our system, because of the bias and the way that our laws are enforced, just like I went down with Sen. Williams to try to de-escalate the situation, Sen. Williams was taken away,” he said. “We understand she’s been left in a van for a very long time on a cold and rainy day.”
Dreyer added: “For some reason, I saw Capitol police lined up three abreast, row after row after row, looking like they were trying to stop a riot, when we were standing up for people’s right to vote. So this is not democracy; this looks a lot more like an authoritarian government. And it seems like that’s happening a lot these days, doesn’t it?”
The Georgia gubernatorial election was called for Republican Brian Kemp, and Kemp has begun to transition into the office. But Kemp, who oversaw the election as secretary of state, is accused of rampant voter suppression and has lost several court cases over his attempts to block voters of color from the polls. His opponent, Abrams, is about 58,000 votes behind him as ballot counts are still being finalized, but she needs only about 20,000 more votes to force a runoff. She refuses to concede until all votes are counted, and about 25 counties have yet to certify their results.
Williams is the first woman to hold her state legislative seat ― a seat once held by the late civil rights leader Julian Bond. In the spirit of Bond, she said she will keep fighting for a fair election, despite her arrest.
“I’m incredibly proud and will continue to stand with the citizens of Georgia to demand that their votes be counted,” she said.