Black leaders are sounding off when it comes to the decision by some Republican governors to allow the reopening of businesses in their states and the pressure from other business owners to let them resume operations.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced some non-essential businesses would be allowed to open for business on Friday, April 24.
“By taking this measured action, we will get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress that we have all made in the battle against COVID-19,” Kemp said during a press conference on Monday, April 20. Some businesses, including gyms, salons, barbershops, tattoo shops and bowling alleys, will be able to reopen on Friday. Theaters and dine-in restaurants may reopen on Monday, April 27. Those companies reopening must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Kemp’s announcement came days after President Trump announced guidelines for reopening state economies.
Kemp cited economic concerns when he explained his reasoning, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I can tell you I don’t give a damn about politics right now,” Kemp said. “We’re talking about somebody that has put their whole life into building a business, that has people they love and work with every single day working in many of these places, that are at home, going broke, worried about whether they can feed their children, make the mortgage payment.”
Kemp admitted “we’re probably going to have to see our cases continue to go up,” but the first-term governor believes the state is equipped to handle a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“If we have an instance where a community starts becoming a hot spot, then, you know, I will take further action. But right now [I] feel like we’re in a good spot to move forward,” he added.
Kemp’s unexpected announcement was jarring for Georgians who believe he’ s trying to do too much too soon. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN she was blindsided by the decision.
“I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way, and again I can’t stress enough I work very well with our governor and I look forward to having a better understanding of what his reasoning is,” she said. “But as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”
Bottoms went on to express concern about the potential loss of life.
“You get your hair done, I get my hair done. I don’t know how you socially distance when someone is doing your hair or doing your nails, giving you a massage,” she said during an interview with WSB-TV. “These things are concerning to me. I do hope that I’m wrong and the governor is right. Because if he’s wrong, more people can die.”
Van Johnson, mayor of Savannah, Georgia, also expressed his disapproval.
“In my mind, this is reckless,” Johnson said. “It blows our minds that here in Georgia that we would have these types of rules and being lifted in a time when people are still suffering.”
Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s former opponent, tweeted the decision is “dangerously incompetent.” Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also blasted Kemp’s decision.
“I’m extremely concerned about the governor’s plans and what his decisions will mean for the safety, health and lives of Georgia residents,” King said in a Periscope video. She is a member of Kemp’s coronavirus task force and revealed the governor did not inform them of his intentions.
In the video, King also highlighted the elevated risk for Black people.
“I am particularly concerned about populations most affected by the virus,” she said. “It is well-known and conveyed by scientists, medical professionals and data that the coronavirus is proven to be especially dangerous for members of my community, the Black community.”
The governors of Tennessee and South Carolina also plan to start reopening certain entities in the coming days, reported CNN. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced non-essential businesses, including department stores and flea markets, will be allowed to open. Businesses will be required to operate at 20 percent capacity, which is about five customers per 1000 square feet. Starting Tuesday, beaches will also be accessible.
“People are complying very well with orders. In light of common sense being shown we are ready to take some steps for the economy,” McMaster said, according to WYFF.
Columbia Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin doesn’t believe McMaster’s decision is based on facts.
“We need more testing, we need more data, and then we can decide how we go back in the business, recognizing there will be a new normal as to how we do business here,” he said. “But the challenge is in places like Florida and Georgia, and yes, even here in South Carolina. There is not that dialogue that is data-focused rather than these arbitrary dates our governors keep laying out.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will allow his stay-at-home order to expire on April 30. He hopes to start reopening businesses in about a week.
“Social distancing must continue, but our economic shutdown cannot,” Lee said. “While I am not extending the safer at home order past the end of April, we are working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible. Social distancing works, and as we open up our economy, it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it.”
Tennessee state representative London Lamar disagrees and urged her constituents to stay put.
“As a African American legislator, individuals in our community are dying at higher rates with less access to healthcare and benefits,” she tweeted. “Until we see the numbers decrease drastically, we need to continue to stay at home and practice social distancing.”
Leaders, like New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, are being pressured by antsy business owners. On Sunday, a group of owners took out a full-page ad in the Times-Picayune to press the mayor and other Louisiana politicians to loosen restrictions. Despite the very public display, Cantrell is sticking to her guns, per WGNO. She doesn’t plan to consider reopening until May 15.
“I will not be bullied,” Cantrell said regarding “decisions that are the best, and are in the best interests of the citizens of the city of New Orleans.” Cantrell spoke during a press conference, adding “And I do not need any permission, in terms of anyone, for doing my job. And I’m going to do my job to the best of my ability, again as I have demonstrated.”