Reparations task force proposed in Philadelphia

If the City Council votes to create it, the task force would be responsible for determining the city's involvement in slavery and making recommendations for restitution to descendants of enslaved Africans.

Philadelphia’s City Council votes next week on a resolution to form a task force to assess if the city can pay reparations to its residents who are descendants of enslaved Africans.

The task force would be responsible for evaluating data to determine the city’s involvement in slavery and making recommendations for restitution that could include monetary payments, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Last year the newspaper wrote a series of articles outlining Philadelphia’s role in creating practices and policies that engendered policies and practices that harm Black people. The series began with the declaration, “American democracy was enshrined in Philadelphia. So was systemic racism.” It included an evaluation of the city’s prison system that became the prototype for America’s approach to incarceration that disproportionately affects Black people. 

In Philadelphia, shown here in January, the City Council is set to vote on a resolution that would form a task force to consider reparations for residents descended from enslaved people. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )

“It is crystal clear that many of the crises plaguing our city have their roots in American slavery,” said City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, one of the people who introduced the proposal Thursday to study reparations. “Reparations are not a handout, they’re what the descendants of enslaved Africans are owed and need.”

She also deemed the concentration of lethal crimes in Black communities a vestige of racist decisions. “You can trace a direct line from the decades of racially motivated disinvestment to Black neighborhoods to gun violence,” Gauthier said. “Until these communities receive the investments required to rectify these problems, gun violence will continue to plague this city.”

The resolution to form a group to study reparations is a result of a rally in January in which the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, or N’COBRA, convened outside City Hall and asked lawmakers to form such a group, the newspaper reported.

For more than 35 years, that national coalition has advanced the idea of reparations policies, and it has listed five areas that slavery continues to impede and that reparations should address. They include poverty, education, personhood, criminal justice and health, the Inquirer reported. Reparations, the group says, could include providing economic development opportunities, giving land or making direct payments to descendants of enslaved Africans.

One member of N’COBRA warned that Philadelphians should calibrate expectations for financial restitution and remain aware that all reparations require city, state and federal support.

“Capital and recompense” to Black descendants of enslaved Africans is not something the public should expect from this task force, said Rashaun Williams, N’COBRA Philadelphia co-chair, the Inquirer reported. 

“The first thing is honesty. We’re asking for focused activity and positive reparations,” Williams said in January, according to the newspaper. 

For example, the group wants all businesses and banks that do business with the city to disclose their connections to slavery as a 2005 law requires. Additionally, those businesses should propose programs that would benefit the city’s Black residents. Investigating whether the city enforces that mandate would be one of the responsibilities of the task force.

Should City Council members approve the task force, Philadelphia would join a number of cities and states that have done the same in recent years including: Evanston, Illinois; Asheville, North Carolina; New York state; California; San Francisco and Boston.

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