Minnesota city forms reparations committee to pursue ‘real racial justice’

The St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission will advise Mayor Melvin Carter and the City Council on fiscal and policy choices to "specifically address" generational wealth for the descendants of chattel slavery.

A city in Minnesota established a reparations committee to work toward “real racial justice” and give recommendations on how to compensate Black residents whose ancestors were enslaved.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission will consist of 11 members and be a permanent advisory body with mandates outlined in the city code. 

The commission will advise Mayor Melvin Carter and the City Council on fiscal and policy choices “to specifically address the creation and sustainment of generational wealth for the American descendants of Chattel Slavery,” according to the ordinance creating the panel.

St. Paul reparations committee
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter (left), seen with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto during a 2019 Capitol Hill hearing, will get advice from an 11-member commission on how to handle reparations for descendants of slavery. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Members of the council celebrated Wednesday’s “historic” vote, with at least one referring to it as “just the next step.”

“I think the conversations ahead are where I look forward to learning, to delving into the details and to figuring out what this process looks like,” said council member Rebecca Noecker, the Star Tribune reported.

A grassroots effort that eventually resulted in a formal apology for the city’s part in institutional racism gave birth to the demand for reparations in St. Paul over two years ago. After that, a city-appointed group held regular meetings for a year to research restitution and considered the potential structure of a permanent commission.

The committee recommended that the commission’s initial duty be to examine direct cash distributions to qualified residents when it presented its findings to the council last summer.

“You guys are setting an example for the rest of the country with what you’re doing here,” said national reparations advocate Trahern Crews, who co-chaired St. Paul’s temporary committee, according to the Star Tribune.

The appointed members of the reparations commission will each have a three-year tenure, and they will convene monthly. Preference will go to residents who are active in the community, and “demonstrate lived experience as it pertains to the commission’s work, and comprehend the role of reparations in addressing the impacts of chattel slavery,” as stated in the ordinance.

The council’s 2023 budget already earmarks funds to hire a full-time employee to support the reparations efforts.

“When George Floyd was murdered in 2020, it became clear that all of us, in any position where we had any ability to make change, needed to make a real commitment to never go backwards,” said council member Jane Prince, the ordinance’s lead sponsor, the Star Tribune reported. “By our actions, we are committing St. Paul to never go back — but to keep moving forward toward the vision of real racial justice.”

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