"I was winded and tired, and still have a little bit of the exhaustion" is how Georgia State Senator Nikema Williams describes her current condition. The state lawmaker from Atlanta is barely recovered from the coronavirus, which she contracted after coming in contact with a fellow lawmaker who'd tested positive for COVID-19.
During her time of self-quarantine, Williams wore a mask, as is advised by the CDC.
Now, Williams is concerned about the danger that wearing a mask in public could bring for some.
"My husband is a 6 foot 3, 300 pound black man. He's been doing our shopping since I've been recovering." Williams says her husband is uncomfortable wearing the mask, and he says he's being stared at as if "he's up to no good."
"It's the history of how black men are treated in our society" says Williams.
She and the Georgia NAACP are bringing attention to a state law (OCGA 16-11-38) that charges persons with a misdemeanor if they wear "a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer" while out in public or on private property without a written permission.
Georgia NAACP Vice President, Attorney Gerald Griggs, says "there are 4 exceptions to the law, and none of those exceptions cover patients or anyone trying to prevent the catching of the coronavirus."
Statistics indicate that blacks are disproportionately getting the coronavirus at a higher rate. Says Griggs, "It's more encouraging for them to wear the mask, but I'm afraid that they may be profiled by police, by store owners, by anyone who might feel that they are intimidated by a black person wearing a mask, or a scarf, a bandana, or any type of facial coverings."
In a letter dated today to Governor Brian Kemp, Senator Williams asks that he "suspend this anti-mask statute throughout the duration of the State of Emergency so that Georgians can follow CDC recommendations without fear of violating the law." "If you're a sworn police officer and you see the law is being violated", Griggs points out, "you're supposed to either cite the person or arrest the person."
Williams believes allowing the law to remain active during this health crisis is "dangerous". She doesn't want there to be "any underlying currents to give anyone any reason to monitor, follow, or profile black men in our society. They're just trying to stay safe so that they won't bring germs back home to their family and get themselves sick."
"We need a medical exception to the law" says Griggs "and we need one carved out immediately."