From calling out Trump’s racist rhetoric to Gov. Kemp’s reckless reopening of Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms does not shy away from standing up for what she thinks is right—and calling out what’s wrong.
“Atlanta faces unusual challenges as we cope with the ongoing pandemic. The political reality is that we are a blue city in a red state, trying to balance public-health concerns in a diverse environment while getting our economy back on track as soon as possible.”
Keisha Lance Bottoms (D)—Atlanta’s 60th mayor—penned the words above in an op-ed for The Atlantic a week ago, in which she outlined her grave concerns surrounding Georgia’s reopening.
Her words of warning came shortly after Governor Brian Kemp (R) expressed intentions to lift coronavirus restrictions in the state—despite health officials’ concerns of a renewed outbreak and Pew Research polling showing two-thirds of Americans being concerned about premature reopens.
Businesses to reopen include restaurants, gyms, salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys—all of which require human interaction closer than six feet. And, of course, if your workplace is open, you can’t refuse to show up and still draw unemployment benefits—forcing employees to choose between their livelihoods or their lives.
Mayor Bottoms recognizes this pick-your-poison choice, calling Kemp’s loosening of restrictions “irresponsible” and “deadly.”
“Our hospitals may not be stretched to capacity, but that does not mean we should work to fill the vacant beds. I strongly believe that our health-care system is not overwhelmed because we have been socially distancing. And while staying at home may be inconvenient for many people, there is nothing essential about going to a bowling alley during a pandemic. We need to continue to do whatever it takes to keep the number of cases from rising.”
Bottoms said she and other mayors throughout Georgia were not asked for input on the decision, but rather learned of the reopening with the rest of the public during Kemp’s official announcement.
“Mayors across Georgia, including myself, were denied the opportunity to provide input on his decision to ease social-distancing restrictions,” according to Bottoms, “even in COVID-19 hot spots such as Albany, Georgia—which has per capita infection rates on par with New York City’s.”
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The black community in Georgia has faced severe economic challenges since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—as historically, studies show white owners have easier access to banks. And more people of color have been infected in Georgia by COVID-19 than anyone else. According to a study from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, over 83 percent of those diagnosed with coronavirus are black.
Mayor Bottoms emphasized this point:
“We continue to see much higher rates of infection and death occurring among African Americans than in other communities. We need to do much more to close the income and health gaps that render people of color more susceptible to this disease.”
But like many other “blue [cities] in … red state[s],” Mayor Bottoms must forge her own path of leadership for herself and her constituents—given the mixed messages and misinformation coming from the White House.
“In a normal world, we could look to the president of the United States and receive sound, practical advice,” said Bottoms, “Instead, we have to caution people not to ingest and inject their bodies with household cleaners.”
Speaking Out on Ahmaud Arbery
This weekend, Bottoms spoke out against the Trump administration again—placing blame on it for the outrageous miscarriage of justice behind the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed in February.
“The rhetoric that we hear coming out of the White House in many ways, I think many who are prone to being racist are given permission to do it in an overt way in a way we wouldn’t [otherwise] see in 2020,” said Bottoms on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
After video footage was released last week showing Arbery’s shooting at the hands of two white men, the nation became outraged by the lack of an arrest. The two men, a father and son, were arrested days later in association with the shooting.
“I think had we not seen that video I don’t think they would be charged,” Bottoms said on CNN. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s 2020 and this was a lynching of an African American man.”
As of September 2019, only 22 percent of mayors in major U.S. cities were women. But Bottoms is giving mayors around the nation—both men and women alike—a masterclass in leadership.
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