Rep. Karen Bennett, chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus

Georgia state Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain, chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus

(The Center Square) – Black lawmakers in Georgia say Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order that reopens parts of the economy puts African-Americans, who already are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate, in jeopardy.

Members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) released a statement that denounces the order that allows certain businesses in the state to reopen Friday and Monday.

“We all want to return to business as usual and return businesses to work; however, our collective future has been permanently changed by COVID-19,” GLBC Chair Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain, said in a statement. “This virus has disproportionately impacted the lives of black and brown people.”

Kemp’s order, issued Monday, allows gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo studios, barbers, cosmetologists, nail technicians and beauty schools to resume operations Friday.

Bennett and the other 64 members of GLBC represent districts that are predominantly people of color. She told The Center Square during research for legislation banning hair discrimination the members found that high volumes of people in their districts frequent beauty salons. 

According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, beauty salons and barber shops often serve as social sanctuaries for black people to talk about “important issues in the community.”

“We cannot and will not stand silently by and watch the premature opening of businesses that are mostly in the African-American communities,” Bennett said. “We cannot sacrifice the lives of people tomorrow to satisfy the wants of a few today. We call on the governor to rescind this order until science and evidence prove that COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our communities.”

Kemp’s office did not respond to requests for comment, but he said Monday he was reopening the economy "to get Georgians back to work."

“As a small business person for over 30 years, I know the impact of this pandemic on hardworking Georgians in every zip code and every community,” Kemp said.

While Bennett said she is sensitive to the needs of small businesses, the health and safety of Georgians should take precedent.

Kemp said public health reports of emergency room visits and documented COVID-19 cases are declining. GLBC members said they have not seen data that meets the White House recommendations for opening the economy, which calls for a 14-day downward trend in confirmed cases.

There were 18,947 cases reported Monday. As of Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 20,740 cases of COVID-19 – including 836 deaths – and 3,959 hospitalizations. Daily reports for the past week show fluctuations in confirmed cases.

African-Americans, who make about 32 percent of the state’s population, account for 52 percent of coronavirus-related deaths.

“We charted the data for the last 14 days, and it was not consistent with what the governor said, but that's what we based our movement and our choice on," Bennett said.

Kemp’s executive order also allows churches to resume services and theaters, private social clubs and dine-in restaurants to reopen Monday.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.