Georgia Governor Race: Arrested Black State Senator Says Southern Republicans Are in Fear of Losing Total 'Power and Control'

Stacey Abrams ended her bid to become the next governor of Georgia on Friday night, but neither she nor those who have shared in her fight are giving up the larger battle to make their voices heard.

"I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right," Abrams told the crowd during a fiery speech at a news conference in Atlanta, referencing the accusations of gross voter suppression in Georgia and other states across the country.

It's the message that has managed to eclipse all other heated rhetoric this election cycle, more widely debated than immigration or health care, red state or blue state. "Count Every Vote!" became a rallying cry at demonstrations across Georgia.

For state lawmaker Nikema Williams that rallying cry has already resulted in her arrest. Protesters shouted "Let her go!" as she was handcuffed by officers during a demonstration earlier this week where activists demanded all votes be counted in Abrams's battle with the former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was overseeing his own election.

"I don't think he liked the way he was being talked to or being challenged," Williams told Newsweek of the policeman who put zip ties around her wrists and escorted her out of the state capitol building on Tuesday. "As most people in authority don't like to be challenged."

Williams, a first-term state senator and civil rights advocate, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice. She spent about five hours detained at Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, alongside 14 other protesters. Williams was the only person arrested who is facing two charges, everyone else only one. "I think that it was an intimidation tactic to get me to be quiet, retreat into a corner," she said. "But that's not who I am."

Videos shot by reporters show the moment of arrest: Williams with her hands behind her back, telling the crowd, "I was not yelling. I was not chanting. I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard, and now I'm being arrested."

That morning Williams was arguing with her 3-year-old son about wearing dinosaur light-up rain boots to school before heading to a special legislative session on hurricane relief. She never thought that hours later she'd be going to jail, where officers would ask her to remove her dress for a strip search.

It's been over a week since the midterms, but the battle for governor in Georgia remains as contentious, maybe even more so, than it was before Election Day.

While Abrams formally ended her campaign for governor on Friday, acknowledging that she did not have enough votes to beat her Republican opponent, she insisted that this was in no way a normal concession.

"I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election," Abrams announced. "But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on suppression of the people's democratic right to vote has been truly appalling."

Abrams added that her campaign will be filing a "major federal lawsuit" against the state of Georgia for "the gross mismanagement of this election."

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Jackie Stewart, Nina Williams (left), Kwali Daniel Speid, 7, and Kiya Johnson watch speakers during an election watch party for Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams on November 6, 2018, in Atlanta. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Georgians remain wary of any foul play in the election after reports of rampant voter suppression that largely disenfranchised minority voters across the state. In October, the Associated Press found that 53,000 voter registration applications were halted by Kemp's office, 70 percent of which were from people of color. Problems at the polls including long lines and machine shortages only further escalated concerns of voters being silenced.

It reminded Williams, who was born in rural Alabama, of the stories she used to hear her grandparents tell about the challenges that people of color faced for their right to vote.

"What I know is that we might not be counting jelly beans in a jar or there might not be a literacy test, but when you have poll locations that don't have enough provisional ballots, when you have lines that are three, four, five hours long because someone forgot to bring power cords to let you vote" that it is an "ongoing, systemic attempt to suppress minority voters," Williams said, hours before Abrams's announcement Friday.

"I wholeheartedly put that squarely at the feet of Brian Kemp," Williams added.

But Kemp, along with President Donald Trump and the Republican establishment, has argued that there has been no wrongdoing. In fact, they claim they are the victims of a Democratic fraud in places like Georgia and Florida where provisional and absentee ballots continue to be counted more than a week after election night.

The president complained to The Daily Caller in an interview on Wednesday that Republicans lost in the midterms because illegal voters are going "around in circles" supporting Democrats. There is no proof to support Trump's claims of voter fraud, nor did the president provide any.

"When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace what's going on," Trump said. He also falsely claimed that buying cereal requires more identification than voting in an election.

But that Republican message isn't resonating with all Georgians, Williams said. After all, dozens of people showed up to the state capitol rotunda in the middle of the day on Tuesday to protest.

"They are going to tell you what they want you to hear and it is not on the side of justice," she said of Republican messaging. "For someone to decry the justice system or us going through the court system to make sure every voice is heard, I want to know what they are afraid of."

So what are they afraid of, exactly? It's not just about losing this race, Williams said, attributing the paranoia to a desire to maintain total "power and control."

"The Deep South still has a lot of ties to white supremacy and our Jim Crow era of politics. The more diverse our states get, the more people show up to vote at the polls, the more power is taken away from those that are not accustomed to being challenged," she added.

Long after Election Day, the battle between Abrams and Kemp remained one of the most closely watched races in the country. Williams said the race's popularity, which attracted high-profile politicians and celebrities like former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, has something to do with having a black woman at the top of the ticket. November 6 was an opportunity to make history, with Abrams on the brink of becoming the first ever black female governor in the United States.

But the gubernatorial race quickly became less about the candidates and more about the constituents, forcing the country to acknowledge and address still prevalent issues of voter suppression.

"I am a constant reminder to them and to myself that I am operating in a system that was not designed for me, not for someone that looks like me," Williams said. "I am one of 56 [Georgia state senators] and that is why I will always continue to elevate the voices of my constituents. That is why I was sent here. That is why Stacey Abrams ran in the first place."