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Civil rights and religious leaders urge African Americans to defy governors' efforts to reopen businesses

CNN logo CNN 4/26/2020 By Fredreka Schouten, CNN
a view of a city street: A view of an empty John Lewis Freedom Parkway into downtown Atlanta from Jackson Street Bridge on April 4, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. © Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images A view of an empty John Lewis Freedom Parkway into downtown Atlanta from Jackson Street Bridge on April 4, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.

A coalition of prominent civil rights and black religious leaders is urging African American residents who live in states that are moving swiftly to reopen their economies to stay home in defiance of governors until there's evidence the coronavirus outbreak has eased.

The group, convened by the Conference of National Black Churches and Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, said some governors are demonstrating "reckless disregard for the health and life of black residents" and called for black churches and businesses to remain closed in those states until there's evidence that it's safe to resume more normal activity.

"We do not take it lightly to encourage members of our communities to defy the orders of state governors," the officials said in a statement. "Our sacred duty is to support and advance the life and health of Black people, families and communities in our country."

Bing COVID-19 tracker: Latest numbers by country and state

Top officials with the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are among the groups joining the stay-at-home message.

Georgia on Friday became one of the first states to begin reopening nonessential businesses, including barbershops, nail salons and gyms. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's move to restart an economy stalled by the pandemic has sparked dismay among some of the state's mayors, who say increasing coronavirus cases in their communities show Kemp is moving too quickly.

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"Nothing has changed," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom told CNN's John Berman on Friday, as she urged residents of her city to stay home. "People are still getting infected. People are still dying."

Nearly a third of Georgia's residents are African American.

Covid-19 has cut a particularly deadly path through African American communities. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show black patients have made up nearly 20% US coronavirus deaths, although African Americans make up about 13% of the nation's population.

The outbreak has killed more than 53,000 people in the US as of Saturday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University's latest tally.

Other states, including Oklahama and Alaska, have started to ease restrictions.

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