An Illinois city is taking the reparations issue head-on with a new policy regarding American descendants of slaves. As you know, the debate over reparations became prevalent once again after several candidates vying for the Democratic Party presidential nomination brought it back into the mainstream. But it seems that some are attempting to provide a solution at the local level.
Reparations Through Marijuana
The city of Evanston, Illinois recently voted to use tax revenue from marijuana sales to provide reparations for its black residents. City aldermen have not yet determined how the reparations fund will be administered but the vote makes the city the first municipality to create a reparations program.
The initiative began when the city adopted recommendations from the Equity and Empowerment Commission at the September city council meeting, leading to the creation, in October, of the Reparations Fund and a Reparations Subcommittee. This latest vote means that revenue from the city’s 3% sales tax on marijuana will go to the fund. They expect at least $500,000 per year will be collected.
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who represents the predominantly black 5th ward, supports the new measure, arguing that it is time to take action to close the wealth gap. “Evanston has been preparing to lead the nation in this way for years,” she said.
Simmons has been lobbying for a reparations fund for years and argued for the creation of the Equity and Empowerment Commission. While the city council had passed resolutions designed to promote equity and inclusion, the alderman believed it was time to take more concrete action on the matter.
Simmons cited the city’s history of segregation, racially-biased homeownership policies, and the disproportionate impact on the black community of the “war on drugs.” She contends that these factors resulted in the $45,000 wealth gap between black and white residents – but is this accurate?
War on Drugs
Many U.S. cities carry the legacy of Jim Crow and segregation and, if the alderman is correct, Evanston is no different. But the war on drugs has also caused tremendous damage to the black community. A National Academic Press study revealed that blacks are far more likely to be arrested for drug offenses despite the fact that they are not more likely than members of other races to commit drug-related crimes. “In recent years, drug-related arrest rates for blacks have been three to four times higher than those for whites,” the report states. “In the late 1980s, the rates were six times higher for blacks than for whites.”
One of the primary contributors to the issues many black Americans face today is the breakdown of the black family. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 39% of black children are being raised by single parents. While this percentage is far lower than the erroneously-cited 70%, it is still higher than the rates for other races. Many point to the welfare system as the cause of this problem and while this is certainly true, the war on drugs has also been a prime factor in the destruction of the black family. With so many black Americans being arrested for drug offenses, it is no surprise that a wealth gap exists.
Can it Work?
It seems fitting to use tax revenue from marijuana sales to repair some of the damage caused by the war on drugs but can this initiative actually provide a solution? It does not involve raising additional taxes on citizens who were not responsible for slavery, Jim Crow, or the drug war; the 3% tax will be levied on marijuana sales regardless of where the revenue goes.
Another issue is the nature of the reparations themselves. The City Council has not completely ironed out the details when it comes to how the fund will be used, but it does not appear that the city will simply write a check to black residents. Instead, they are leaning towards using it to provide job training, education, and other programs.
A solution like this might not work on the national level but if individual cities were to enact initiatives like these, with the support of their residents, it may be possible to end the debate over reparations. However, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party will support such a move on a nationwide scale. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that they would attempt to impede cities that wish to adopt this solution.
The reality is that the Democratic Party has no intention of pursuing reparations for the descendants of slaves. Those vying for the presidential nomination are simply engaging in the same type of rhetorical con game as their predecessors. They believe they can persuade black voters to support them with promises of money. Moreover, as long as the debate continues to rage, they can use it as another race-baiting weapon against their political opponents.
It will be interesting to see how Evanston’s new policy will pan out. But the nation shouldn’t expect a resolution to this issue anytime soon.
Read more from Jeff Charles.