Thursday, April 20, 2023

Detroit Reparations Task Force hears public proposals during first meeting

BY:  - APRIL 14, 2023

The Detroit City Council Reparations Task Force heard ideas from the public during its first meeting on Thursday in downtown Detroit. 

They included remedies designed to address home mortgage foreclosure, various tax credits, repaying city retirees who took pension losses during the city’s 2013 bankruptcy process, as well as direct cash payments to African American city residents. 

“Black folks in Detroit need to be compensated,” Cecily McClellan, a retired city of Detroit employee told the task force. 

Eighty percent of Detroit voters approved a 2021 measure that called for the creation of a task force to study and address the issue of reparations. Detroit is 77% African American. The 13-member task force was appointed by the Detroit City Council.  The task force has been allotted $350,000 for administrative operations for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. 

Keith Williams, who serves as both Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus chair and Reparations Task Force co-chair, said he wants to see a reparations effort that addresses Black people who lost residential and commercial property in the Motor City’s Black Bottom community several decades ago.

In the early 1950s, an all-white Detroit city government seized private property in a lower east side neighborhood in the name of urban renewal. 

“I feel that we must acquire the land in these backward sections, that we must remove the buildings there from and sell the property back to private individuals for development,” then-Detroit Mayor Albert Cobo said in January 1950.

The effort displaced Black city residents, many of whom were poor. Black Bottom was replaced with Lafayette Park, a middle-class and largely white residential district, according to 1970 U.S. Census data.

Williams, a former Black Bottom resident, believes that Black descendants should receive government economic reciprocity.

“That should be part of the repair,” said Williams. 

Detroit isn’t the only city to consider reparations. In Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb, elected officials approved a 2019 resolution to create a reparations funding stream. Last year, 16 Evanston residents were selected to receive $25,000 each in reparations to address harms from slavery to discriminatory housing policies.

Meanwhile, Detroiters’ perceptions of the racial wealth gap, the legacy of slavery and other forms of racial inequity are strongly connected to their support for reparations and policies that address racial inequity, according to a 2022 study by the University of Michigan.

Overall, 63% of Detroit residents support some form of reparations, and 70% say addressing racial inequality should be a high policy priority for elected officials. 

The analysis of survey findings emanates from the U of M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study and the Center for Racial Justice, with support from Poverty Solutions.

“There is a strong link between awareness of racial inequality and support for reparative policies,” said Erykah Benson, a U of M doctoral student in sociology and research fellow at the Center for Racial Justice, who analyzed the survey results. “We’re in a moment of national debate about how to think about, teach and resolve historical and contemporary injustices. How we collectively remember and understand our history shapes how we think about appropriate solutions for generational and ongoing injustices.”

Among the 73% of Detroiters who believe the average Black person is worse off than the average white person in terms of income and wealth, 71% support reparations and 75% say policies that address racial inequality should be a high priority. Among the 14% of Detroiters who believe the average Black person is equally well off as the average white person, 38% support reparations.

The survey was fielded between June 16 and Aug. 26, 2022, and captures the views of a representative sample of 2,339 Detroit residents. Results were weighted to reflect the population of the city of Detroit.

The Detroit City Council Reparations Task Force will provide recommended action steps to the City Council in no later than 18 months.  

This article originally appeared at Michigan Advance on April 14th, 2023.  

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