Atlanta Mayor Bottoms Faces Racist Backlash Over Hesitation to Reopen: 'Just Shut Up and Reopen Atlanta'

Maria Boynton
April 23, 2020 - 6:00 pm

    It’s times such as these when the best and worst in people can be on display.

    During this pandemic, healthcare workers are risking their own lives to save those of others. We learn of various acts of kindness from neighbor helping neighbor, to food banks working non-stop to get students and families fed. Then there are those incidents of negativity. I’ll get to that in a moment.

    As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Georgia is grappling with whether it is ready to start reopening.

    Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is allowing certain businesses to start unshuttering their doors on Friday. Included in that group are beauty salons, barber shops, gyms, spas, bowling alleys, and tattoo parlors. Eat-in restaurants and theaters would follow on Monday.

    Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been at the fore-front leading the state’s capitol city through the pandemic. She ordered her city to shelter in place on March 24.  Yet, Bottoms, who serves on the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force says she was ‘shocked and angered’ when Kemp announced his plan ‘to reopen the economy’ during a press conference this week. Bottoms, and Dr. Bernice King who co-chairs Kemp’s Community Outreach COVID-19 panel, say they were not notified that Kemp was about to make such a ‘premature’ move. King, the daughter of assassinated Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.

    Bottoms, King, and faith-based leaders say it’s too soon to reopen. Under Kemp’s plan, houses of worship would be allowed to return to meeting in person. Mega-church leader Dr. Jamal Bryant, Senior Pastor of metro Atlanta’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, says they will not hold service as normal “because things are not normal." Dr. Bryant has called on Kemp to reverse the order.

    Now, the community is scurrying about wondering what it should do. Do you return to work in order to put food on your family’s table, or should you be driven by the data, which indicates Georgia’s coronavirus cases are increasing, and stay at home?

    Atlanta businessman Michael Render, also known as Rapper Killer Mike, owns the barber shop Killer Mike’s Swag Shop. The Grammy-winning performer says he will not reopen on Friday. “My wife and I decided that the community we serve is more endangered if we keep our doors open." Render adds, “Let’s keep our doors closed a few more weeks. Let’s see how this thing is panning out. Let’s wait to see what the medical community is saying and let’s react to that.”

    Grammy-winning producer Jermaine Dupri took to social media with a message to friends outside of the city who he said think Atlanta is “excited” because the Governor is about to reopen things.

    “I’m not excited," Dupri said, pointing to his face mask. “I feel like for the first time in 4 weeks that my chances of getting sick are probably greater.  The fact that people feel like they’re going to be able to go outside. I don’t like that.” In his post to @jermainedupri, the Atlanta resident takes issue with the “image of Atlanta”.  He said “I don’t like the way people think that our minds move, basically shortchanging us, [thinking that] we’re running around happy spending money, drugs, and strip clubs.”

    According to Dupri, “People think black people in Atlanta can’t wait to get out. That’s our image. That doesn’t need to happen. Let it be our image when there’s no Corona.”

    “They’re expecting us to die” said Dupri.

    Then, there are those on the other side of the issue:

    Wednesday night, Mayor Bottoms shared a tweet to her that included the N-word. It read “[N-word], just shut up and RE-OPEN ATLANTA!" In her post, Bottoms said “With my daughter looking over my shoulder, I received this message on my phone. I pray for you.” The mayor attached to her response a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Conscientious stupidity or sincere ignorance.”

    It’s what King’s father fought against during the Civil Rights Movement. Atlanta’s native son, King, died because of his desire to end racism and bigotry. Now, during these times, that venom is revealed yet again.

    Atlanta is “The City Too Busy to Hate”, and as we continue to stay at home and experience a new virtual reality, my hope is that such acts against those trying to help us won’t force us to throw in the towel.

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