Jamaicans in Atlanta disturbed by city’s reopening
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ran into a growing chorus of opposition for his reopening of a number of businesses across the state last weekend. The stores reopened included barber shops, nail salons, hair salons, massage parlours, bowling alleys and gyms. The governor also added that in-person church services can resume.
But several mayors across the state, as well as health experts, have lambasted the governor’s decision, saying the coronavirus cases have been heavily concentrated in African-American communities, and reopening so soon would further devastate those communities and trigger a new wave of infections across Atlanta and its suburbs.
Governor Kemp is a staunch Republican ally of President Trump. But despite Trump’s early approval of Kemp’s efforts to ‘restart the economy’, the president is now distancing himself with an ambiguous message from the hasty reopening amid widespread criticism. “I told the governor of Georgia Brian Kemp that I strongly disagree with his decision to open certain facilities. But at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right,” Trump said.
However, with data collected from Johns Hopkins University showing that that the state had already registered more than 20,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,000 deaths, the message from the thousands of Jamaicans who live in the region was crystal clear, without a shred of ambivalence.
“When the leadership begins to undermine the advice of public health experts, there will be consequences. I am a doctor and a healthcare provider here in Atlanta and the decision to open the city without proper testing in place is irresponsible,” Dr Zeudi Coleman, a Jamaican medical doctor, told The Gleaner. “The numbers don’t lie and that is all we can trust right now. The African-American deaths are 54 per cent of the total numbers here and moving up sharply, higher than any other ethnic group. Putting front-line workers who are predominantly black and minorities back to work without any proper testing and protection will only create new micro epicentres,” she added. “I see a lack of empathy to put the economy above human lives,” Coleman lamented.
Another Jamaican, Pat Baccas, who hosts a radio show on 1100 AM Future Movement Radio Atlanta, shared her views. “The mayor of the city of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, strongly disagrees with the order put in place by the governor. According to multiple reports, many Jamaicans are electing to keep their doors closed in order to ensure the safety and the well-being of their employees and members of the community,” she shared.
Debi Wareham, a Jamaican who lives in Marietta, about half an hour from Atlanta, said she was very active on social media last week opposing the reopening. “Brian Kemp barely won the election for governor and I feel this is a control strategy to eliminate some. Luckily, all the small business owners I have reached out to are using common sense to remain closed,” Wareham commented to The Gleaner.
And Jamaica-born news producer in Atlanta, Byron Henry, reiterated to The Gleaner the expectation that despite the governor’s declaration, many businesses simply won’t open so quickly. “Cinemas were expected to reopen this week but reports are already swirling that most won’t open anytime soon for fear of being sued if patrons contract the virus.”
“I hope the community will exercise its own leadership power by not reopening until it is safe to do so,” Coleman advised. “The economy can bounce back but the loved ones lost will be gone forever.”
According to the 2019 census, more than 53,550 Jamaicans reside in the state of Georgia.