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Gov. Kemp Sues Atlanta to Block Mask Mandates, Mayor Bottoms, Other Local Officials Respond: ‘I Am Not Afraid’

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta on Thursday, July 16 in an effort to prevent local officials from requiring masks and enacting other coronavirus-related restrictions. The lawsuit that names Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta City Council members as defendants comes one day after Kemp signed a statewide order that bans counties and cities from enforcing mask mandates. It also comes as tensions, between state and local officials, continue to mount over how to contain the virus.

In response to the lawsuit, and amid the state’s rising number of coronavirus cases, Bottoms and other local officials have said they will continue to require that masks be worn in public spaces.

A week prior to the lawsuit, Bottoms enacted a mask mandate in Atlanta, after saying she had repeatedly asked Kemp to issue a mask requirement, but that he had “refused.”

Graph showing Georgia’s upward trend in coronavirus cases (11Alive screengrab)

The lawsuit states: “Governor Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage the public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public.” Kemp has said the lawsuit is intended to protect business owners and employees in Atlanta that have struggled to stay afloat in the wake of the pandemic.

Bottoms stood firm against the increased pressure, saying during a Thursday, July 16 public update, “I am not afraid of the city being sued and I’ll put our policies up against anyone’s, any day of the week.” She also said she was prepared to engage in a legal battle in order to keep the mask mandate and restrictions in place. After Bottoms’ July 10 decision, the city returned to “phase one” restrictions that urge people to stay at home, except for essential trips, and require restaurants and bars to shutter. The mayor has pointed out that she has tested positive for the virus, along with two of her family members. As of the morning of Friday, July 17, more than 130,000 Georgians have contracted the virus and over 3,000 have died.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson sided with Mayor Bottoms, asking, during a separate news conference, “How can we take care of our local needs when our state ties our hands behind our back and then says ‘Ignore the advice of experts?’ “After Kemp said mask mandates would be suspended, the mayor of Savannah tweeted: “It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis also responded by reinforcing his stance that masks are a lifesaving tool needed to contain the virus.

More than half the states in the country have issued statewide mask mandates. In addition, states like Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina have not issued statewide mask guidelines, but have permitted localities to enforce restrictions.

People on social media had mixed reactions to the governor’s decision.

Bottoms also fired back at Kemp, saying, “A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing,” adding, “if being sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court.”

The power struggle comes on the heels of the shooting death of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, who was shot and killed across the street from the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks died in June, and Kemp’s subsequent decision to call in the National Guard to protect state buildings amid the unrest. Bottoms said Kemp’s decision to deploy the guard was unnecessary.

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