Detroit is the latest U.S. city to begin to have conversations on how to address the issue of reparations with the approval of a study for possible reparations to Black residents who were ancestors of slaves.
The resolution was drafted by Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield and it was passed June 15 without objection. The plan calls for the creation of a city task force or commission to decide what reparations may look like for Detroiters and how to make it happen, whether through a committee or at the state level.
African Americans have been unjustly enslaved, segregated, incarcerated, denied housing “through racist practices” in public and private markets, denied mortgages, displaced and faced racial steering, redlining, blockbusting, gentrification, among other things, according to the resolution, USA Today reported.
“There’s a lot of systemic issues that African Americans face and this is a predominantly Black city,” Sheffield said. “I think it’s important that we acknowledge it and we at least begin to have conversations on how to address the issue of reparations.”
The resolution addresses a range of issues, from environmental health to the right to live free from discrimination, including people with disabilities, immigrants, LGBTQ, and others. It also calls for the council to establish a process to develop short- and long-term recommendations to boost opportunities in the Black community, economic mobility, and address the creation of generational wealth.
If reparations on a local level are ultimately approved, reparations experts point out that this wouldn’t be “true” reparations. True reparations must be on a federal level, reparations scholars William Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen have repeatedly said.
Local “attempts at racial atonement do not constitute reparations proper,” Mullen and Darity wrote in an article for the Roosevelt Institute. “In many instances, local initiatives that parade under the label of ‘reparations’ are not that at all. Local government actions called ‘reparations’—whether at the state or municipal level—frequently constitute an admission that atrocities have been committed followed by allocations for research, or the construction of centers, rather than compensatory payments to Black Americans.”
Even if localities do issue monetary compensation, the funds would not amount to the “$10-to-$12 trillion, or approximately $250,000 for each Black individual” needed to close the racial wealth gap, said Mullen and Darity. The married couple co-authored the book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.”
Detroit is also looking into ways to pay for the study and possible reparations. Attorney Todd Perkins is hoping for a ballot initiative for the November election that would amend a portion of the city charter which “restricts power from the voters to enact city ordinances for the appropriation of money.” If this is changed, the city can use funds from marijuana revenue sales to pay for reparations, according to Perkins.
Perkins is working on the effort with Michigan Democratic Black Caucus Chairman Keith Williams.
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“When Mary’s (Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield) resolution was voted on then passed, I had tears in my eyes,” Williams told USA Today. “I look at the people who left Black Bottom, I thought about the people who went through police brutality. The people who’ve been impoverished all of their lives in Detroit. All of the wealth that was taken from us. I say God is a good God.”
Reparations Advocates Praise Selection Of Kamilah Moore To Lead California Reparations Task Force Image: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/8566. Credit: State Archives of Florida