From Providence, RI, to Asheville, NC, officials are trying to address years of what they call injustices in their communities, ranging from resolutions to support studying reparations to proposals to funnel more funds into programs for Black communities.
“It’s always the right time to do the right thing,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said. “There is an appetite and an urgency to make the most of this moment and make sure there is real structural change that comes out of it.”
Supporters say there is some momentum for reparations – at least discussions – in the wake of civil unrest, but they acknowledge there is fierce opposition. No country has given monetary compensation to African descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, experts said.
Opponents of reparations, argue they would cost too much and determining eligibility would be difficult. They say Americans today should not be held responsible for slavery.
Some experts said the push may have to come from local leaders.
“It’s really local activists and local actors, members of city councils … who are empowered in ways in their small communities to do things and to act outside of what the state would do and even the nation would do,'' said Niambi Carter, a political scientist at Howard University.
Providence & Asheville
In mid-July, Providence officials pledged some form of reparations for Black people, indigenous people and people of color, creating an executive order promising “truth, reconciliation and municipal reparations.”
The order requires Providence to seek the truth about the city and state’s role in slavery; promote community discussions around racial injustice; and determine what policies and programs would reverse the harms of slavery and genocide.
Officials have not determined what kind of reparations the city will provide. The mayor said Providence can’t bear the entire burden of paying reparations to residents, so he called for all levels of government to join the effort.
The Asheville City Council also just voted to provide reparations by investing in marginalized Black communities: increasing minority homeownership and access to other affordable housing; increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities; closing the gap in health care, education, employment and pay; and changing the criminal justice system so it is equitable. City leaders said they would like to create paths to generational wealth for Black people.
Evanston Is Already Funding
Only a few local governments have passed reparations measures, including the California Assembly, which approved a plan last month to create a task force on how they would be implemented. Durham, NC, approved a resolution supporting national action.
Ahead of them all, though, is the city of Evanston, Il, which has already figured out how to fund reparations: using a marijuana sales tax (as reported by The Community Voice last February).
The plan calls for using $10 million collected by the city in cannabis sales taxes over an estimated 10 years to provide African American residents with housing assistance and economic development benefits. As of the 2010 Census, the Black population of Evanston was about 13,400 people.
According to Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who has led the effort, details for the first "remedy policy" are nearing completion: a $25,000 direct benefit payment to purchase a home. Those who qualify, according to the current proposal, are Black residents who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 or their direct descendants.
"We are going to lead with housing," said Simmons, because homeownership is considered a "benefit that would build wealth," putting Black residents on the path toward bridging the "wealth gap."
The next round of benefits from the fund will be designed to encourage business development and entrepreneurship.