Evanston first in US to offer Black residents reparations using marijuana tax money

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EVANSTON, Ill. (AP/WGN) — Using tax money from the sale of recreational marijuana, the Chicago suburb of Evanston has become the first U.S. city to make reparations available to its Black residents for past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery.

The City Council on Monday voted 8-1 to begin making good on its pledge to distribute $10 million over the next 10 years with the distribution of $400,000 to eligible Black households. Each qualifying household would receive $25,000 for home repairs, down payments on property, and interest or late penalties on property in the city.

The move by the Illinois community comes as hundreds of communities and organizations across the country are considering providing reparations. In Evanston, besides revenue from a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana, a small portion of the money — $21,340 — is coming to the city in private donations.

Qualifying residents must either have lived in or been a direct descendant of a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969, or that person’s direct descendant, who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies or practices. Also, residents who also experienced discrimination due to the city’s policies or practices after 1969 can qualify.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who proposed the program that was adopted in 2019, said groups in support of reparations have offered pro-bono legal assistance if the program is challenged in court.

“This is set aside for an injured community that happens to be Black, that was injured by the city of Evanston for anti-Black housing policies,” Simmons said.

At the same time, Simmons suggested that the money is just a start to right the wrongs of the past.

“We all know that the road to repair and justice in the Black community is going to be a generation of work,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be many programs and initiatives, and more funding.

“This resolution is dictating to Black residents what they need and how they will receive what they need. This isn’t change that can be a beacon for the nation. It is a dim, weak light.”

The effort took a big step forward Monday night but one alderman says it’s reparations in name only. 

“As a housing program, I think it’s great,” Alderman Cicely Fleming, the lone vote against the plan. said Monday night. “As a reparations program, it falls very flat to me.”

She supports reparations, but what the City Council was debating is a housing plan that is being called reparations. She said the people should dictate the terms of how their grievances are repaired.

Supporters hope Evanston could serve as a model for cities across the country including Chicago. 

“There’s no Bauer Place on the map of city of Evanston anymore,” said resident Carlis B. Sutton.

The story of Bauer Place is part of Sutton’s family history. He says what’s now a parking lot across from Willard Elementary school is where his grandfather built his home but was later forced to move it to Foster Street.

“Sometime around 1927, they told people they could have the house, but they couldn’t have the land,” Sutton said. “What he worked hard for and built was just ripped off the map.”

The Land Clearance program was one of the ways Black residents were pushed into certain parts of the city.

“Nothing will be enough for the kinds of discrimination my family endured over the years they’ve been in this community,” Sutton said.

The city resident believes the plan is a start, however, and says elderly residents should be prioritized.

“For all of us that are closer to a casket than obtaining a mortgage we need that kind of relief and we need it now,” Sutton said. “This would be a great help to me to remain in this community.”

Other communities and organizations considering providing reparations range from the state of California to cities like Amherst, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, Asheville, North Carolina, and Iowa City, Iowa; religious denominations like the Episcopal Church; and prominent colleges like Georgetown University in Washington.

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