Georgia on my Mind
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Georgia’s Governor, Brian Kemp, continues to demonstrate a callous disregard for public health and human life. He claims that favorable data trends, enhanced testing, and the advice of state healthcare leaders is guiding his decisions. Yet, like his mentor Donald Trump, he apparently believes that good government consists of wishing away reality, screaming at reporters (especially black women), and pretending that his policies are in everyone’s best interest.
A tone-deaf Governor Kemp is ignoring the medical professionals and scientists in a desperate ploy to re-open the state’s economy. His decision reveals his belief that we must bear an “acceptable level” of death among Georgia residents in order to return to “normal.” He fails to understand that whatever we “return” to, our lives and our society will probably be much different. We must now calculate time as before corona and after corona (BC and AC).
In his effort to “jump start” the economy, the governor began relaxing social distancing guidelines and opening barber shops and beauty parlors. One week into this order we have learned several things:
Testing increased marginally across the state. However, no plan exists for systematically increasing testing throughout the state. Georgia remains 40th among states with respect to testing.
Georgia residents may be forced to return to work, whether they agree with the Governor’s decision or not. If they do not return, they could lose any claim to unemployment benefits. Such a position taken by the state may not be illegal, but it certainly would be unethical.
According to the CDC, in Georgia, African Americans constitute over 80% of those hospitalized for coronavirus. These horrifying, disgusting, and saddening facts reveals much about the existing health disparities and disparate impact of COVID-19 in the state of Georgia where African Americans are 32 percent of the population.
Medical professionals and scientists believe Georgia is yet to hit its peak and should not be reopened until June. Therefore, the Governor and his advisers are willfully violating even the modest guidance provided by the White House Task Force, as well as practically all serious scientists.
Governor Kemp continues to turn a blind eye toward the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths reported across the state. The latest figures reveal that there are now more than 28,600 cases and 1,177 deaths. However, the lack of adequate testing means that there could be many more undocumented cases and deaths, including in nursing homes and jails and prisons.
In the midst of this global pandemic, some conservatives continue to put forward ideals of personal responsibility. However, to many others, especially African Americans who have seen and heard southern politicians like Kemp many times before, this sounds more like another attempt to shift blame onto the victims and playing politics with people’s lives.
And, while the Governor of the United States’ eighth most populous state, has publicly demonstrated his ignorance regarding aspects of the disease and its spread – even though the CDC is located in Atlanta – it seem inconceivable that he would be unaware that Georgia reopening too soon will definitely result in a second wave, a higher number of cases, and significantly more deaths.
Data finally emerging from the CDC and other sources should remove any doubts about the disparate impact of the coronavirus. Hopefully, African Americans serving on Governor Kemp’s coronavirus advisory committee will call this to his attention, and express the sentiments of distrust that exist across the state’s African American community. Should Governor Kemp fail to address these disparities, it could only be understood as willful neglect.
Media reports indicate that people are slowly coming back to work, and moving about more freely, which may have provided a justification for the further expansion of the executive order. In fact, it is perfectly understandable that people are genuinely trying to save their businesses, or that others, suffering from cabin fever, are simply happy to be outside. But that should not be mistaken for nor should it alleviate our urgent concern for public health and safety.
Stupidity is not a crime, nor is it a crime to be ideologically misguided. However, deliberately pursuing policies that result in inflicting pain, suffering and death on a large group of people on the basis of their racial, ethnic, or national identity is a crime. That crime is called genocide. If that sound harsh, consider how we might analyze a foreign country when we learned that 80% of victims shared a racial or ethnic identity.
In another two weeks, when we witness a spike in cases and deaths, we cannot shed crocodile tears or wring our hands. If African-Americans distrust the Governor’s motivations, or that of Georgia’s Department of Public Health officials, how might they respond to the Department of Public Health/CDC initiative to conduct antibody testing in hard hit areas within Fulton and DeKalb counties, where blood samples will requested from “randomly selected residents”? Or, what might they think about the Governor’s and Homeland Security’s “state isolation camp,” or “quarantine zones” (Hard Labor Creek) that Governor Kemp has said will be “guarded and monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week?”
Governor Kemp presents himself to the world as a god-fearing man. Therefore, we pray that the god he claims to serve grants him the wisdom to put aside his political agenda, to see “the handwriting on the wall,” and to instill in him a newfound sense of respect for the fact that everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights. However, barring that miracle, we must begin organizing and preparing for the worst.
Dr. Keith Jennings, President, African American Center on Global Politics and Human Rights