On Monday, during an afternoon press conference, the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, effectively signed the death certificates for thousands of people in his state.
Kemp decided, in the midst of a pandemic in which two Georgians are dying every hour — and without alerting any of the mayors across the state — to announce that he will be reopening gyms, hair salons, nail salons, barbershops and bowling alleys on Friday. Restaurants and movie theaters would be opening next week. He’s also allowing churches to reopen.
This is all in spite of the fact that the state has not met any of the standards laid out by the Trump administration to ease social distancing. The Georgia curve hasn’t flattened for a single day, let alone 14. The state is woefully behind in testing and there is a nursing shortage.
There is no path to Kemp’s decision that will lead to any improvement of conditions in the state he governs. In that very same disastrous press conference on Monday, Kemp even admitted that this will only exacerbate the catastrophe: “we’re probably going to have to see our cases continue to go up… If we have an instance where a community starts becoming a hot spot, then, you know, I will take further action.” However, there is already a disastrous hot spot in south Georgia. Dougherty County, with a population of only 90,000, has been decimated by COVID-19, tracing back to one single funeral at the end of February. The county has had more than 500 cases. The community is still reeling with little relief. Opening it back up is a localized apocalypse. It is important to mention that Dougherty County is 70 percent Black and Black people make up 90 percent of the deaths there.
There will be more death in Dougherty County. There will be more death in Georgia. Those deaths will fall at the feet of Brian Kemp, who, despite weeks of warnings and evidence being widely available, announced April 2nd that he didn’t know asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 could infect other people.
The easy answer to the debacle is simply pointing to the notion that Brian Kemp is incompetent; a bumbling idiot who doesn’t understand the vastness of his terrible decision. But attributing this to stupidity is pardoning Kemp for the true evil at work here. There’s a groundswell of noise that Kemp’s decision is based on the belief that by opening businesses in Georgia, Kemp is forcing workers to either go to work and expose themselves to a potentially deadly disease or forego their unemployment claims as they would now be voluntarily not going to work as opposed to being laid off or furloughed. Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, thankfully, says it’s possible to miss work voluntarily and still claim unemployment under extreme circumstances but you’ll need to show proof of an issue. It’s unclear if “fear of pandemic” counts. Georgia has hit one million unemployment claims which threaten to cripple the state’s economy. Kemp doesn’t want that, so he’s willing to send workers — mostly Black workers — to the hospital and the morgue as a tradeoff.
Again. Georgians will die. It will be Kemp’s fault.
In order to understand the magnitude of this vileness, you have to understand how we even got here in the first place.
Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, should be the governor of Georgia. Kemp, who ran ads about his big truck to “round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself,” was Georgia’s Secretary Of State who used that power to suppress as many votes as humanly possible in Georgia. His position, of course, was a conflict of interest for his gubernatorial chances. It was also his trump card.
Kemp not only suppressed votes. He relished his power to do so. He basked in the glow of his white supremacy. Leaked emails show him sending laughing emojis to his colleagues after reports came out that he purged half a million people from the state’s voter rolls.
Here’s more from NY Mag’s reporting:
“In 2016, after a cybersecurity researcher found hacking vulnerabilities in Georgia’s digital voting system, a range of experts called on Kemp to return to paper ballots. Kemp not only refused to do so, he declined to fix the vulnerabilities. The same month, he spoke out against federal efforts to reclassify the American election system as “critical infrastructure” because doing so would’ve let the Department of Homeland Security offer him cybersecurity support.”
Kemp won the election by fewer than 100,000 votes.
In short, Brian Kemp wielded dictatorial power to steal an election which allowed him to, two years later, sentence mostly Black and brown people to choose between poverty and death. This isn’t some backwoods doofus. This is a calculated, deliberate act of violence. The line between negligent loss of life and active erasure of human beings is as thing as a paper ballot.
All the pieces matter. And Brian Kemp’s decision to put people’s lives in danger is one that was set in motion years ago when his racist campaign was rewarded with the tools to steal an election from someone who would have undoubtedly acted with more care and due diligence to keep people alive.
Today, Georgia is quiet. Shelter in place orders still exist. Birds are chirping and nature is as loud as ever outside my window. It’s a quiet before a storm. In a few weeks the fruits of Kemp’s self-imposed disaster will start to crystallize. Hospitals will overflow. People will die. This isn’t an accident. This is a direct order. From an illegitimate governor. And a cruelty that knows no limit.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet. Read more of his work on NewsOne here.