If you’re trying to figure out the impact of the new Georgia law restricting voting rights, two photographs will tell you everything you need to know.
The first photo shows Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing the sweeping law, which many argue will make voting harder for people of color. He is sitting at a table in a stately room, flanked by six men in suits and before a portrait of what seems to be a painting of an antebellum, plantation-styled home.
The second photo shows two beefy White police officers arresting a distressed-looking Black woman – Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon – after she knocked on Kemp’s office door repeatedly while he announced the signing of the bill into law.
The symbolic contrast between the two images, both taken within minutes of each other Thursday evening at the Georgia Capitol, is hard to miss.
In the photo, Kemp and the Republican lawmakers surrounding him are wearing face masks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Republicans rushed the bill through both chambers of the legislature within a few hours, allowing Kemp to sign it into law that night.
But the optics and timing of the signing – under cover of darkness, with White men wearing masks – will only fuel suspicion among voting rights advocates and Black Americans that what Georgia Republicans did Thursday wasn’t lawmaking.
It was the 21st-century political equivalent of strongarm Jim Crow tactics to prevent Black citizens from voting.
It’s been said that a single image can supercharge a movement and change public opinion.
A photo of White law enforcement officers flailing away with billy clubs at Black marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, helped spark the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
A photo of a grief-stricken young woman leaning over the prone body of a college student killed by National Guard troopers at Kent State mobilized sentiment against the Vietnam War.
And a video of a dying Black man gasping for breath as a White police office knelt on his neck last year ignited one of the largest racial justice movements in the nation’s history.
No one died Thursday night when Cannon was hauled away to jail on charges of disrupting the meeting. Cannon admitted she continued to knock on Kemp’s door after state troopers told her to stop. She said she did so to fight voter suppression.
Kemp and his fellow Republicans who posed for the signing portrait last night have said the new law is needed to boost confidence in “secure, accessible, and fair” elections.
But they may soon discover that photo will haunt them for years to come.
The juxtaposition between that image and the one of Cannon’s arrest shows – maybe better than a thousand op-eds about “voter integrity” – what the new Georgia law is all about.