Brian Kemp does not care about people of any race, culture, identity, or multiple identities, but he does cares about power. He cares about political points within his Republican Party. He cares about money.
Kemp is the governor of Georgia. He is the political leader who admitted at a Wednesday, April 1 press conference that he had only just learned that asymptomatic individuals can still spread coronavirus — even though health experts had warned about the possibility as early as January. And, even though his governor’s office in Atlanta, the state’s capital, is just a few miles away from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been instrumental in conveying statistical information about the pandemic.
Kemp added, on that day, that in the past 24 hours, he also found out “that this virus is now transmitting before people see signs.” As a result, he issued a statewide shelter-in-place order.
Fast forward to late April, a mere three weeks later, and Kemp has announced that he will re-open the state on Friday. First, nail salons, barber shops, beauty parlors, movie theaters, bowling alleys — all spaces where Black people frequently congregate and will have to be in close proximity, where people more than likely would touch each other, or touch something that someone else will also have to touch.
Georgia is a state where Black folks make up 32 percent of the total population but account for 54 percent of the known coronavirus deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Let me say that again: Blacks make up just a third of the population of the state of Georgia, but over half of the coronavirus deaths.
This is because, as elsewhere in America, including New York City where I live, Black people are most likely to work in so-called essential jobs that keep cities going like healthcare, restaurants, mass transportation, sanitation to name a few. Second, because of generation-to-generation health issues like diabetes, asthma, high-blood pressure, and heart disease Blacks in America also are extremely vulnerable to pre-existing conditions that literally invite in COVID-19.
Additionally, while 30 percent of White Americans say they can work at home during this pandemic, only 20 percent of African Americans can make the same claim.When you look at heavily Black-populated areas in Georgia — Atlanta, Albany, Augusta — we see the jaw-dropping explosion of this pandemic. In fact, Albany is considered a “hot spot” in the state with Kemp, himself, saying just last week, "the Albany situation is much [more] drastic than anywhere else.”
Indeed, according to John Hopkins University, cases in Georgia have more than doubled since Governor Kemp’s early April press conference, from 7300 to 18,000 in just the past couple of days.
Yet, Brian Kemp is defiantly re-opening Georgia because he is the governor, and he can. Just like how as Secretary of State in 2018 he defiantly resisted all calls for him to step down from that position while running against Stacey Abrams. As Secretary of State, not only was Kemp responsible for the electoral process throughout Georgia, but there were endless allegations of voting purging and voting suppression by Abrams and others. She lost by only 50,000 votes after far more were denied their right to vote. Stacey Abrams’ new organization, Fair Fight, currently has a lawsuit pending, which is in discovery phase.
The people most affected by those allegations of voter suppression: Black people, poor people. The people who will most likely be affected by Governor Kemp’s decision to re-open Georgia’s economy: Black people, poor people.
This is outrageous. It is inhumane, dangerous, and dancing with death. It’s an example of wildly incompetent and utterly dumb leadership at its best. This is also political leadership inspired by the reckless and reactionary behavior of President Donald Trump, and by the largely White “rebels” who are roaming state-to-state, some with guns, demanding that they “be set free” and that they have the right to get the coronavirus if they want to.
This is Georgia, this is America, where insane racism blends with sheer stupidity and White nationalism at the expense of the rest of us. And, given that the American South remains the region where the bulk of Black folks live, it is not a stretch to say that Black people living in places like Georgia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and elsewhere could easily become the new epicenter for the coronavirus, if state leaderslike Governor Brian Kemp are not resisted and stopped from governing so foolishly.
Yes, this is a tragedy-in-the-making of historic and monumental proportions. This reminds me, very much, of the crack and AIDS epidemics of the 1980s, and how those twin scourges killed so many, destroyed so many families, devastated our communities. We felt, then, that President Ronald Reagan and leaders like him did not care about Black people, about Latinx people, about poor people, about LGBTQ+ people. And, it is abundantly clear now that we are dealing with the exact same kind of bigoted and narrow-minded political leadership.
I echo what Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is saying in light of Governor Kemp’s decision...
Please stay home…no matter what.
Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, public speaker, civil and human rights activist, and author of 14 books, including his autobiography, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images