Gov. Kemp urged to suspend anti-mask law amid coronavirus outbreak

ATLANTA — Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended everyone wear a mask when they go out in public, many people are doing it, but some are concerned it will get them in trouble.

Georgia has an anti-mask law that was adopted 70 years ago, and there's nothing new in the law that says a public health emergency is a reason to wear a mask.

Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes learned that some people have already gotten in trouble for this in other states.

[SPECIAL SECTION --> Latest on coronavirus in Georgia and around the world]

Two men were escorted out of an Illinois Walmart because they were wearing masks.

Now, leaders are asking Gov. Brian Kemp to suspend the anti-mask law for now.

"The anti-mask law was adopted in 1951 and served its purpose," according to attorney and civil rights activist Gerald Griggs.

"It was as enacted to prevent the (Ku Klux) Klan from being able to appear masked and robed in public, and that’s the purpose for the law," Griggs said.

He said now that we're in a pandemic, Georgians really need the governor to step in.

"We really need for the governor to step up and suspend the prosecution of that," Griggs said. "Or elected district attorneys and solicitors to agree to not prosecute. Otherwise we're going to have a real problem."

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered Atlanta police officers not to enforce this law right now after she saw that the two black men were escorted out of the Illinois Walmart simply because they wouldn't take off their surgical masks.

Griggs said that puts the Atlanta police in a tight spot.

"The only problem is, Georgia police officers are POST (Georgia Peace Officer Training Council) certified, so they’re state officers regardless if they work for APD (Atlanta Police Department) or not, their policing certification is from the state," Griggs said.

That means Atlanta police have to enforce state laws.

State Sen. Nikema Williams wrote a letter asking the governor to suspend the law for now.

It reads, in part:

"This problem will only get worse for people of color who wear homemade cloth coverings."

Kemp said he's considering his options. The governor certainly has the power to suspend the law for now or make provisions.

Kemp is expected to make a decision this week.