Detroit city council pushes ahead with reparations initiative

Detroit City Council is moving forward with an effort to support reparations for African Americans.

President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield’s resolution, which passed Tuesday without objection, aims to lay out a foundation to create a city task force or commission to design what reparations may look like for Detroiters and how to make it happen, whether through a committee or “higher level” entity at the state level.

The resolution also states that 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 and more.

Sheffield said there are multiple community-led initiatives for reparations. You have Proposal P. Then you have the petition-led initiative, which is trying to put the question on the ballot. The ideas we’re kind of waiting to see is what happens with those so we’re not duplicating something that may be placed on the ballot, Sheffield said. “Today was important because it also shows council’s support for the idea of reparations and supporting a process to explore it moving forward.”

Attorney Todd Perkins is submitting a ballot initiative for the November election seeking to amend a portion of the city charter which “restricts power from the voters to enact city ordinances for the appropriation of money, according to the petition. He said this is a way to sequester funds from marijuana revenue sales to be placed in a reparations fund or committee.

“They would then decide how these monies would be spent and for what purpose,” said Perkins, who told the Free Press he received nearly 4,000 signatures. “It creates a sense of understanding and acknowledgement that ‘OK, you were actually wronged.’ There’s an acknowledgement that something went wrong.”

Michigan Democratic Black Caucus Chair Keith Williams is working with Perkins on pushing for reparations for Black Detroiters, Williams said.

You can go back to 1792 when (William) Macomb had 26 slaves, Williams said. Then, you’re talking about housing. They wouldn’t give loans to African Americans … then you had the city of Detroit ordinances created where African Americans live in slums so they could use federal money for a highway system in their community. Then you go to the ’67 riots.

Williams added the caucus also endorsed Proposal P, a ballot initiative to amend the city’s charter. Part of the changes includes establishing a reparations task force.

When Mary’s resolution was voted on then passed, I had tears in my eyes. 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, Williams said.

The resolution highlights that the city addresses a range of issues, including:

Right to water and sanitation
Right to environmental health
Right to safety
Right to live free from discrimination, including people with disability, immigrants, LGBTQ, and others
Right to recreation
Right to access and mobility
Right to housing
Right to the fulfillment of basic needs
It also calls for 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.

There’s a lot of systemic issues that African Americans face and this is a predominately 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.

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