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'It's not a handout, it's a hand up.' Detroit to explore reparations for African American residents

Detroit skyline
Posted at 5:30 AM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 08:33:38-04

DETROIT — A group of elected officials in Detroit wants the city to explore the possibility of providing Black residents with reparations to make amends for past discriminatory practices.

The push is in the early stages, but those behind it say it's long overdue and it begins with acknowledging the damage.

"People who have a problem with reparations, let's have a conversation," attorney Todd Perkins said. "Let me find out what your problem is, and I guarantee you as we leave that conversation, you'll have a different thought about reparations."

Perkins has joined the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus in their push for reparations for Black Detroiters. By definition, reparations are the making of amends for a wrong by paying money or somehow helping those who have been wronged.

"I know one thing, that it's not a handout, it is a hand up," said Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield. "It is something that Black Detroit is owed. I think we're going to start to study and research — what are other cities doing? What fits best in Detroit? But I think it's about creating economic upward mobility for Detroiters, generational wealth, home ownership, things that historically we've been left out of."

Sheffield put forth a reparations resolution she says acknowledges that African Americans have been systematically oppressed and harmed through slavery, segregation, policing, incarceration and voter suppression.

Resolution Supporting Community Reparation 04.23.21 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

"There's a lot of needs, a lot of issues," she said. "There were a lot of discriminatory policies that left out so many Detroiters as it relates to creating generational wealth for their families. And so we want to explore, we want to research, we want to study the issue of reparations."

Reparations wouldn't necessarily come in the form of a monthly payment to qualifying Black Detroiters. But Perkins said the money could come from Detroit's marijuana tax.

"One, they're new funds. I know so many African Americans who went to prison because of involvement in marijuana, and it's an activity that today is now legal," Perkins said.

In March, the Chicago suburb of Evanston became the first city in the country to create a reparations program for its Black residents in the form of a $25,000 home improvement credit for those who suffered from discriminatory housing policies.

Todd Perkins has presented the city with almost 4,000 signatures to get a proposal on the ballot that would change the charter to allow a group Detroiters to decide on the appropriation of money.

"If this is a democracy, then allow democracy to take place and let the people speak about at least how they spend their money," he said.

On Friday, those behind this push for reparations in Detroit will hold a press conference to begin engaging the community for their input.

This story was originally published by Kimberly Craig on Scripps station WXYZ in Detroit.