Editor’s Note: Dorothy A. Brown is a law professor at Emory University. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Early this month, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced on Twitter that she and members of her family had tested positive for Covid-19. She has also, as it happens, repeatedly tried to get a mask requirement enacted to protect her city’s residents. She can’t because Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has thwarted her at every turn.
Bottoms, a Democrat, tried again last week when she signed an executive order requiring that masks be worn in public, only to have Kemp reject that again yesterday. He signed an order that said cities like Atlanta can’t require that masks be worn. Why? He called it a “bridge too far”– whatever that means – and says the mandate is unenforceable, though he has encouraged people to wear a mask and worn one himself. (“We don’t need a mandate for people to do the right thing,” Kemp said earlier this month.)
On Thursday, Kemp filed a lawsuit against Mayor Bottoms to get the Fulton County Superior Court to declare she cannot enforce her face mask requirement.
Kemp ought to listen to Black women and men, and in this particular instance the Black woman Covid-19 victim who happens to be the mayor of Atlanta.
While we all face risks from Covid-19, the risk Black Americans face is even higher.
According to the US Census Bureau, Atlanta is almost 52% Black and 40% White. A study conducted this spring by a team of epidemiologists and clinicians at four universities showed that Black Americans may be dying from coronavirus at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group.
While Black Americans represent 13% of Americans, counties with higher Black populations account for more than half of all Covid-19 cases and nearly 60% of deaths, the study found. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans in Atlanta are more likely to be hospitalized than White Americans as a result of Covid-19.
Why? One reason is that being Black in America means you have to navigate systemic racism wherever you are – and this exacts a toll, including on health.
Chief Judge Roger Gregory of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals described this racism in an opinion Wednesday (a “suspicionless seizure” case of a Black man in Virginia—unrelated to Covid, but apt to this discussion). We live in a society, he said “where some are considered dangerous even when they are in their living rooms eating ice cream, asleep in their beds, playing in the park, standing in the pulpit of their church, birdwatching, exercising in public, or walking home from a trip to the store to purchase a bag of Skittles.”
This reality for Black people in America leads to high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a range of underlying conditions that makes them more susceptible to Covid-19.
And research shows, according to just one of many studies on the topic, “that racial disparities in health tend to be more pronounced at the upper ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Despite having access to above average social and economic resources….”
Racism always finds a way.
President Donald Trump endorsed Kemp in the Republican primary for governor.
Kemp, as Secretary of State, effectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of Black voters. As CNN reported last December, in October 2018 “then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp – then the Republican nominee for Georgia governor – enforced a policy of “exact match.” Under the policy, the most minor discrepancy, like a typo or missing letter, between a voter’s registration and their drivers license, Social Security or state ID cards was flagged, leading to more than 53,000 voter applications being put on hold. The majority, seven out of 10, belonged to African-Amercans.”
Indeed, there is much to question about his concern for the Black and brown citizens of his state, which has seen more than 100,000 reported cases. As Abrams put it on MSNBC this week: “More than 3,000 Georgians have perished, disproportionately Black and brown Georgians. And he continues to fiddle while Rome burns.”
Governor Kemp has been so reckless in his non-approach to the coronavirus crisis that even President Trump criticized him back in April for opening up the state too soon. And now Georgia cases are spiking. July 1 saw a record-breaking surge. The spike includes young adults.
How do you know you’re on the wrong side of Covid-19? When even this President wouldn’t stand with your decisions.
It turns out dumb and evil make a killer combination.