Stacey Abrams tried to squelch growing criticism Monday over her refusal to rebuke protesters who shouted "support black women" over her white rival's speech at a national progressive conference held this weekend in Atlanta.
In a lengthy Facebook post, Abrams said she would "never engage in any form of campaigning designed to ostracize my opponents based on race" and that the protest at the Netroots Nation conference revolved around state Rep. Stacey Evans' support of education policies that demonstrators opposed.
The Abrams supporters formed a line in front of Evans on Saturday almost as soon as she took the podium, with some wielding signs equating the Smyrna Democrat to pro-Trump figures while others waved "trust black women" placards. Evans' speech, which intended to make the case how progressives can reach out to moderate white voters, was drowned out over the racially-charged chants. A minor scuffle erupted after Evans retreated from the stage between the demonstrators and another group of activists in front of the stage.
After the event, several of the sign-wielding protesters declined to comment. One of the demonstrators said she protested because she wanted "a candidate that truly speaks to my community.” Others said on social media they rallied against Evans because she backed a failed GOP effort to give the state new powers over struggling schools.
Abrams, an Atlanta state legislator who is vying to be the nation's first black female governor, has faced criticism over her refusal to pan what she called a "peaceful protest," including calls from a Democratic lawmaker to do so or risk his support and a torrent of critical posts on her Facebook page. Peggy Stentz Casey wrote that Abrams has lost her vote.
"Every candidate deserves to be heard," she wrote. "If you had been shouted off the stage by demonstrators, I think you would feel differently."
In the Facebook post, Abrams said the protesters were "wholly unaffiliated" with her campaign and that the chants have a "long history grounded in Atlanta's black women activist legacy."
"We share a common devotion to Democrats taking the Governor's Mansion; and, as I fight to be the next person to lead our state, I will always make the mission of serving every single Georgia family central to that effort," Abrams wrote. "I welcome the debate and the Democratic victory to come."
Read Abrams' full statement: