Detroit council votes to add reparations committee issue to November ballot

Detroit – Detroit City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the addition of a question in the November ballot to ask city voters whether a committee should be formed to consider repairs for residents.

The question proposed by council asks, “Should the city of Detroit establish a reparations committee to make recommendations for housing and economic development programs that address historic discrimination against the black community in Detroit?” “

The resolution will now be forwarded to the Detroit Election Commission to determine if the legal requirements for inclusion on the ballot are met. If so, the measure will be sent to the county clerk to be placed on the November ballot, said David Whitaker, director of the council’s legislative policy division.

Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield sponsored two reparations resolutions which recognize that African Americans have been “systematically, continually and unfairly enslaved, separated, incarcerated, deprived of housing due to racist practices and redlining” .

To combat it, Sheffield recently told the Detroit News, the city must create a process that would develop short-term and long-term repair recommendations with the aim of creating generational wealth as well as boosting economic mobility and opportunities for black residents.

The resolution regarding repairs was the first of its kind to reach Detroit City Council, Sheffield noted.

“Historically, we have faced discriminatory policies, and there are a lot of things that have caused African Americans to be left out and locked out,” Sheffield said. “It’s an idea to right the wrongs and start looking at some of these injustices we’ve been facing.”

After the death of George Floyd, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 presidential election, conversations about reparations resurfaced. The developments prompted Sheffield to meet with members of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus, the City Planning Commission and the Reparations Taskforce. They requested that the proposed question be placed on the ballot, Sheffield said, to gauge residents’ interest.

The council could have formed its own reparations committee, but getting voters’ input was key to making the demand, said Keith Williams, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus.

“I’m so excited … we’ve been working on it since February. They gave the citizens of Detroit a chance to vote on their future and now we can really fix our neighborhoods and grow our businesses,” Williams said after the vote. Tuesday “The Detroit council did a fantastic job today.

Councilor Scott Benson asked if the ballot initiative would restrict the committee’s work to housing or economic programs, but Whitaker said that “the term is broad enough to match the nature of the research the committee is doing in the end. account “.

Reparations for slavery gained national momentum this year after a US House committee first proposed legislation to study reparations for black Americans as the former US representative in Detroit, John Conyers, reintroduced at every Congress over 30 years. He has yet to reach a floor vote.

Previously, Congress had not acted on the legislation because critics questioned a causal link between slavery, segregation and racial inequalities today.

But reparations – how they would be distributed, in what form, and who would pay for them – is the subject of debate among the Black Detroiters, some of whom have said they hate to talk about what some would perceive as a grievance document. and the discrimination of decades ago. .

► For subscribers:Repairs movement gaining momentum in Detroit

The proposals do not seek “a document,” Sheffield said previously.

“It’s about providing that access and that equity to ensure that the people of Detroit have better economic opportunities,” she said. The measure “would begin to explore what this could possibly look like in our city,” she added.

While the Duggan administration understands and supports the intent of the effort, the scale of tackling the impact of slavery must come from the federal level, said Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett Jr.

“The resolution is to create an investigative process to assess, catalog and understand the damage associated with slavery as manifested in the city of Detroit,” Mallett recently told The News. “Funding for a response is going to be something that will have to happen at the federal or state level.

“Ultimately, the size and scope of the response that a true investigation associated with benchmark repairs would require should be based on a federal initiative and, at the very least, the state of Michigan.”

Across the country, Detroit joins city councils in Asheville, North Carolina, and Evanston, Illinois, which have passed remedial resolutions in the past year. There are also pending repair initiatives in St. Paul, Minnesota; Durham, North Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island and California.

In March, the Evanston council approved the Local Repairs Restorative Housing Program, granting eligible households up to $ 25,000 for down payments or home repairs using funds from the City Repairs Fund established by the board two years earlier.

However, the proposed measure could raise legal concerns about how it will be funded.

Under the Michigan Constitution, taxpayer dollars cannot be allocated to a specific race. A 2006 constitutional amendment approved by voters banned public employment, public employment, and public education programs that “accord preferential treatment” or “discriminate” against individuals on the basis of race, sex, ethnic or national origin.

But Williams, a former Wayne County commissioner, said the hope was to create the committee first and potentially raise money from marijuana sales.

“Historically, the problems in Detroit stemmed from zoning laws and ordinances caused by city council, just as they were in Evanston,” Williams said. “They passed resolutions in favor of using reparations to solve the problems in Evanston and now we are bringing that same notion to Detroit.”

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