Detroiters Advocate for Michigan Advance Reparations Vote Proposal

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When Todd Perkins thinks of remedies for systemic racial discrimination in Detroit, he dreams of not only atonement, but of hope.

The Detroit lawyer, who has long called for reparations in the city where he grew up, dreams of a chance to finally recognize the pain that runs deep amid institutional racism, housing discrimination and segregation To police violence, income inequality and underfunded schools – and the prospect of building something better.

Those dreams, Perkins said, could come closer to reality on Tuesday, when residents of Detroit vote on a ballot proposal that could result in the city joining a increasing number of American cities are wondering how to provide repairs in the wake of the stories of the country’s slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing systemic racism.

Proposal R ask voters, “Should Detroit City Council establish a reparations task force to make recommendations on housing and economic development programs that address historic discrimination against the Black community in Detroit?” “

The question is historical, said Perkins, who founded a nonprofit, The people’s voice, who dedicated herself to educating residents about the proposed ballot and the impact the repairs could have on a city where near 80% of the population is black and about a third live in poverty.

“Repairs are a celebratory move,” said Perkins. “I see this as a rebalancing. It is a reset and a sense of fairness for all those who have been disenfranchised and discriminated against. This is done at a level that drives business development and housing opportunities that have been denied. “

Detroit City Council Pro President Tem Mary Sheffield. Facebook photo

The vote on the repairs comes after Detroit City Council unanimously approved a resolution in July allowing the proposal to appear on the ballot. Pro Tem Council President Mary Sheffield, with the support of Michigan Black Democratic Caucus, presented the proposal and in July noted the November vote is a “monumental step forward” which takes “the conversation from discourse to action and towards redressing the most blatant discriminatory and racist practices of the past”.

The notion of repairs has been around for a long time; right after the Civil War, the former slaves were supposed to receive each 40 hectares of land approximately 400,000 acres of land that the federal government confiscated from Confederate landowners. Much of this did not happen, and much of that land ended up being returned to the original owners. Today, some 156 years after the end of the Civil War, the federal government still has not compensated the descendants of those enslaved, nor has it addressed the loss of equity due to segregation. from Jim Crow, to anti-black practices in housing and bank lending, and other public discrimination. education and criminal justice policies that have left black Americans much less wealth than whites.

White households in the United States have about 10 times the wealth of black households, according to at the Pew Research Center. In Detroit, the city’s median income was half that of the region as a whole just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Detroit Future City nonprofit reported in May 2021. The same report noted that the average value of a home of a white Detroit resident is about $ 46,000 higher than that of a home owned by a black resident. This kind of inequity is what Perkins hopes the Repairs will begin to correct.

“At one point, one of the biggest discriminators was the federal government with redness“said Perkins.” If you have a [Federal Housing Administration] loan, you were able to accumulate wealth when someone else had to rent for 30 years.

Redlining is a term that now means racial discrimination in real estate, but it comes from maps of the Federal Housing Authority which, from the 1930s onwards, delineated black communities in red ink to indicate where the FHA would not insure. mortgages. Although the practice was banned in 1968, discrimination in real estate remains intrusive Across the country. In Detroit, black residents are more than twice as likely as whites to be denied mortgages, according to to a study published in October by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC.

There has been recent federal legislation around reparations: U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) reintroduced this year a bill which was originally presented by the late Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Detroit. The legislation would put in place a program to study how, and if, reparations to black Americans could be made. A companion bill was introduced by US Senator Cory Booker (DN.J.).

However, neither of the two bills made much movement. Without any definitive action from the federal government, cities began to engage in the conversation about reparations – particularly in the wake of the murders of George floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and breonna taylor and the global protests against police violence and systemic racism that followed their deaths in the summer of 2020.

“What occurred to me was that the racial violence and police brutality we were witnessing was only part of a complicated and ugly story of being black and of a person. of color in America “, Anika Goss, General Manager of Detroit Future City, wrote for the summer of 2020 in his organization’s “The State of Economic Fairness in Detroit”.

Repairs are a movement of celebration. I see this as a reset of the balance. It is a reset and a sense of fairness for all people who have been disenfranchised and discriminated against. This is done at a level that drives the development of businesses and housing opportunities that have been denied.

– Detroit lawyer Todd Perkins

“If we were to film the intentionality of redlining, segregation and economic suppression, we would be shocked,” Goss continued in the report released last May. “We are in a rare moment of change in the United States. A moment that is reminiscent of the American Revolution, the Civil War or the Civil Rights movement. Summer 2020, when a pandemic that left 500,000 [now more than 740,000] The dead Americans, race and economy have become the agent of change for this country. We will never be the same again. What shall we do now?”

For Perkins, Sheffield and other reparations advocates across the country, the answer is: find a way to redistribute the wealth in an attempt to finally start making amends for hundreds of years of oppression. What this translated into was different from one city to another; in Asheville, North Carolina, for example, lawmakers pass a repairs program that includes millions of dollars in financing for homeownership and business opportunities for black residents. Perkins imagines something similar happening in Detroit.

First, of course, the proposal must actually pass, which advocates expect to happen. There is no organized opposition to the proposal, and Detroit Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett has said he and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan support it.

“We support the R proposal; we are extremely interested in being a part of the national conversation, ”Mallett said. “We think this is an important opportunity to talk about what’s to come. We know that the concepts of fairness really involve some kind of restorative justice mechanism.

Conrad Mallet Jr.

“[Proposal] R is going to go through a wide margin, ”Mallett continued.

The hard work, Mallett said, will come once city council begins forming the task force.

“What I really hope is that the task force set up by Detroit City Council is really made up of experts and people who have real life experience, a combination of academics, d ‘economists, historians, people from the community,’ said the deputy mayor. noted. “It must be done in a scholarly and disciplined manner so that when the results are produced, those spiritually opposed to the discussion cannot attack the quality of the information… We must be prepared for the subversive attack that we are experiencing. come.”

To make sure the proposal passes, Perkins spent most of his waking hours outside of his legal work in Detroit “doing Zoom meetings with community groups,” “posting information on our site. Web and through a radio advertisement, “and conduct other outreach efforts to educate people about repairs.

Ultimately, Perkins said, he’s hoping what’s happening in Detroit can become a model for other cities across the country.

“Our goal is to go to every city, especially cities with a large African American population, and promote this idea of ​​repairs,” Perkins said of his nonprofit. “We intend to organize and create momentum.

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