Sorority supports Atlanta Mayor Bottoms in mask fight with Gov. Kemp

Members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. line both sides of Washington Street SW to stand in solidarity and show support for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Gov. Brian Kemp issued a lawsuit against the Atlanta mayor due to her push to move her city back to phase 1 of reopening. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. line both sides of Washington Street SW to stand in solidarity and show support for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Gov. Brian Kemp issued a lawsuit against the Atlanta mayor due to her push to move her city back to phase 1 of reopening. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

As hundreds of people with signs spent their Thursday morning chanting outside the Georgia Capitol, a group of about 25 walked inside and tried to talk with Gov. Brian Kemp.

The group, which included elected officials, was unsuccessful getting time with the governor. They hoped to change his mind about challenging the legal authority of cities that have passed laws requiring masks in public spaces.

The protest was organized by a local alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Inc. to show solidarity with their sorority sister — Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — who has been sued by the state over her mask requirement.

The Democrat mayor and Republican governor are fighting over whether Bottoms has the authority to require masks in the city, when Kemp’s state-wide order blocks cities and counties from making laws more stringent that what the state has ordered.

Medical experts agree that masks are a sound way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. And while Kemp has encouraged Georgians to wear masks he has called such legal requirements “a bridge too far.”

Kemp filed a lawsuit July 13 targeting Bottoms’ choice to revert to the “phase one” guidelines, adding that the city’s mask requirements are “void and unenforceable.”

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As reported, the Georgia Municipal Association agrees with the city that Kemp’s is trying to “usurp local control and Home Rule authority” by blocking Atlanta and 100 other Georgia cities from taking additional steps beyond the governor’s order.

The initial hearing this week on Kemp’s lawsuit was pushed back after two judges assigned to the case recused themselves. A third, Fulton Superior Court Judge Jane C. Barwick, ordered the case to mediation on Thursday and will hold a hearing Tuesday.

“It is not my desire as mayor of this city to have a very public fight with the governor of this state,” Bottoms said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “I would much rather spend my energy on leading our city through COVID-19.”

The group outside Kemp’s office was met by press secretary Cody Hall. With his hands clasped in front of his waist and a mask on his face, Hall nodded as protesters explained to him why they wanted Kemp to rescind the lawsuit. They told him they have been trying for days to get a response to their request for a meeting.

Hall heard them out and said Kemp and Bottoms had a productive conversation Wednesday. Hall added that he would follow up to make sure their request for a meeting had been received.

07/23/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Michelle Sheffield (left) of Snellville speaks to Cody Hall (right), press secretary for Gov. Brian Kemp, as she and others ask about the governors move to not mandate masks statewide and his lawsuit filed against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms during a visit to the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Thursday, July 23, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
07/23/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Michelle Sheffield (left) of Snellville speaks to Cody Hall (right), press secretary for Gov. Brian Kemp, as she and others ask about the governors move to not mandate masks statewide and his lawsuit filed against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms during a visit to the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Thursday, July 23, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Michelle Sheffield, 54, told Hall that people aren’t just angry with Kemp about masks. Sheffield said she applied for unemployment in April and has yet to receive a check. She said her business has cratered since the pandemic started and she has been making masks for extra income.

Though she lives in Snellville and isn’t a member of the sorority, Sheffield said she came Thursday because she wants to show Kemp that he can’t obstruct local authorities.

“If today Keisha Lance Bottoms, tomorrow it could be Snellville,” she said.

07/23/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and other supporters of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms holds signs and chant outside of the Georgia State Capitol Building to stand in solidarity and support the Atlanta mayor, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Mayor Bottoms is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Gov. Brian Kemp issued a lawsuit against the Atlanta mayor due to her push to move her city back to phase 1 of reopening. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
07/23/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and other supporters of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms holds signs and chant outside of the Georgia State Capitol Building to stand in solidarity and support the Atlanta mayor, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Mayor Bottoms is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Gov. Brian Kemp issued a lawsuit against the Atlanta mayor due to her push to move her city back to phase 1 of reopening. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Outside the Capitol was a mass of mostly women dressed in crimson and cream, the colors of Delta Sigma Theta. Among them was Dr. Kimberly Manning, protesting in her dark red scrubs.

Manning, a Delta who graduated from Tuskegee University, said she tries to understand the position of people who are against masks, but as an internist with the Grady Hospital system she has seen the effects of the coronavirus up close.

She said she thinks people would change their minds if they saw families unable to visit their loved one.

“It’s not to protect you, it’s an act of unselfishness,” she said. " ... That isn’t partisan.”

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