Nearly 20 months ago, Chicago officials — spurred in part by demands for racial justice that swept the nation in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — promised to study if and how the city should pay reparations to Chicagoans who are descendants of enslaved African Americans.
The effort never took off.
The City Council’s Reparations Sub-Committee has only met once since its inception in June 2020, and Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward), chair of the subcommittee, told WTTW News that her efforts to schedule additional meetings had been unsuccessful.
Coleman said she was “frustrated and disappointed”.
Coleman said she tried, unsuccessfully, to secure additional funding for the committee planned in Chicago’s 2022 budget to reinvigorate the push.
“Do we keep working, do we keep pushing?” said Coleman. “Absoutely.”
In a statement to WTTW News, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said she was “committed to a restorative agenda of policies and investments to undo the decades of harm and inequality for Black and Brown residents of Chicago. “, but refrained from approving reparations for the descendants of enslaved people.
“Improving the lives of Black and Brown residents is paramount to this administration and has resulted in major advancements such as the historic $1 billion investment in affordable housing, among others,” the statement said. “The roots of poverty run deep in our city, following decades of disinvestment in our communities and economic policies that have created racial and ethnic divides. The Mayor continues to focus on implementing long-term efforts that are evidence-based policies aimed at improving the lives of Black and Brown residents. There is still work to be done and we look forward to continuing our efforts to bring transformational change to Chicago. »
The push to consider reparations in Chicago has been partially thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the reluctance of city leaders to focus on how best to address the legacy of systemic racism and divestment from the slavery in Chicago, Coleman said.
“We have many challenges in this city,” Coleman said. “I hope for a day when we are more proactive.”
It’s been particularly frustrating to see the suburb of Evanston become the first city in the nation to offer repairs, Coleman said. In January, Evanston chose the first residents to get $25,000 in housing allowances that can be used for a down payment, home repairs or interest and late penalties for the first residents to qualify for the program.
Evanston plans to spend $10 million in revenue from recreational marijuana sales over the next 10 years on the program.
“I admire what Evanston has done, but we’re Chicago, we’re the greatest city in the world,” Coleman said. “We should be the leaders, we should be the trendsetters.”
The effort was thwarted despite Alds. Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward), who are among the more conservative members of the city council, cast the only two votes against forming the subcommittee.
Aldus. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), chairman of the city council’s health and human relations committee, told WTTW News in July that he had made a mistake in abandoning his efforts to create a full commission to study the issue of reparations. after Lightfoot objected.
Lightfoot’s office told WTTW News in June 2020 that the mayor favored a subcommittee over a commission because it could be created “quickly” and still serve the same purpose as a commission.
Chicago plans to spend $1.9 billion on various projects and programs designed to help Chicago emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic as part of Chicago’s recovery plan, funded in part by federal aid. None of these expenditures were allocated to repairs – or even to the study of the question.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated efforts to address the reparations issue, the virus has proven far deadlier for black people in Chicago than those of other races or ethnicities.
Nearly 42% of Chicagoans who died after contracting COVID-19 were black, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health, even though black Chicagoans make up less than 29% of the city’s population.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]