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Georgia urged to suspend Jim Crow-era mask law

Georgia urged to suspend Jim Crow-era mask law
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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is being urged to suspend a law against wearing masks in public that was initially passed to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan, to allow Georgians to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

The 1951 law makes it a misdemeanor to wear a “mask, hood or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer” either on public property or without permission on private property.

In an April 10 letter to Kemp, state Sen. Nikema Williams (D), chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, asked Kemp to temporarily suspend the law for the remainder of Georgia’s state of emergency, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that Americans wear facial coverings while outside. 

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Williams also warned that without an emergency order suspending the law, it will likely exacerbate racial profiling among black Georgians who wear masks or homemade cloth coverings. “At a time when the Black community is overrepresented in COVID19 cases, we need to protect our communities and ensure that they will remain safe when trying to flatten the curve and save lives,” she wrote.

The governor's office is looking at state law, a spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“According to the CDC, wearing a mask in public may mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Kemp’s office, told the newspaper. “We are reviewing state law to ensure there are no unnecessary obstacles to following this guideline.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), meanwhile, ordered Atlanta police not to enforce the anti-mask law, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.