Jamal Bryant, a black megachurch pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., says Gov. Brian Kemp's hasty reopening is endangering the lives of people of color disproportionately. / Bryant photo courtesy Jamal Bryant; Kemp photo courtesy Brian Kemp.
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Black Leaders Scorch Georgia Gov. Kemp’s Reopening: ‘A Champion of Holding Oppressed People Down’

Black leaders in Georgia worry that Governor Brian Kemp is showing little concern for COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on African American communities as he reopens the state amid an escalating number of cases and deaths. Stacey Abrams, a black woman and former Georgia House minority leader who nearly beat Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race, said the state is “not ready to reopen” in a tweet on Thursday.

“Kemp’s callous decision defies science, facts, and logic,” she tweeted just hours before the state’s shelter-in-place order ended. “The rush to return to a normal that cannot exist hurts Georgians, especially our black and brown communities and low-wage workers who have no choice.”

On Monday, Gov. Kemp loosened guidelines allowing many non-essential businesses and business functions to resume operations. 

“Starting today, theaters may reopen and restaurants and dining rooms, including those at private social clubs, are allowed to resume dine-in services,” Kemp announced at a press conference on April 27, 2020.

In the four days since, the number of confirmed cases in Georgia has increased by 16.6%, or nearly 3,500, but that did not hinder Kemp’s plans to end the statewide shelter in place order today, nor did it stop him from claiming Georgians had “flattened the curve.” The state added more than 1,000 cases to its total this morning.

Graphic by William Pittman. / Deep South Voice

‘African Americans Are Disproportionately Dying’

The Georgia NAACP warned the Republican governor against reopening in an April 24 letter.

“The Georgia NAACP is deeply concerned that African Americans are disproportionately dying from the Coronavirus and are committed to partnering with every federal and state institution to develop solutions to minimize this disparity as much as possible,” Rev. James Woodall wrote in the letter. 

The letter laid out a five point plan save lives in Georgia amid the pandemic, including increasing access to testing and treatment, providing personal protective equipment statewide, provide grant opportunities for Black and minority-owned business, and expand medicaid.

Kemp did not end all COVID-19 safety measures. On Thursday, the governor said businesses that re-opening “must continue to operate with strict social distancing and sanitation rules to keep customers and employees safe through May 13, 2020.” He also signed an order requiring “medically fragile and elderly Georgians” to continue to shelter in place until June 12.

“The health and well-being of Georgians are my top priorities, and my decisions are based on data and advice from health officials. I will do what is necessary to protect the lives—and livelihoods—of our people,” Kemp said in an April 30 statement.

Kemp, the ‘Champion’

In a Facebook video post on Wednesday, Jamal Bryant, a megachurch pastor in DeKalb County’s Atlanta suburbs, invoked the etymology of Kemp’s name, tracing it back to a 1500 year old word that means “champion.”

“In order for you to be a champion of wrestling, you gotta know how to tie people down—hold them down so that they cannot emerge, hold them down so that they do not become victorious. That’s what the word ‘kemp’ means,” Bryant said. “I’m preaching to you today from Atlanta, Georgia, where my governor’s name is ‘Governor Kemp,’ who has now become a champion at holding oppressed people down.”

“Kemp’s callous decision defies science, facts, and logic.”

—Stacey Abrams

Other states in the Deep South, such as Mississippi and Alabama, have begun developing or implementing similar, albeit more moderate, plans to re-open. Mississippi reopened some retail stores today, even as the state recorded its biggest single-day increase yet, with 397 new cases. The previous high there was 300. 

Follow the latest novel coronavirus data in the Deep South states using DSV’s COVID-19 tracking tool, which covers Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina with daily updates on the numbers of deaths, cases, tests, and more at dsv.news/covid19.

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