Detroit reparations task force plagued by vacancies, infighting

The task force may need more time to finish its report.

Detroit’s reparations task force, beset by resignations, infighting, and questions of transparency, may not get its work done by an October deadline and could seek an extension, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Keith Williams (center), co-chair of the Detroit reparations task force’s executive committee, speaks at an April meeting that included co-chair Lauren Hood (right), who months later resigned from the task force. (Photo by © Junfu Han/USA Today Network)

The Detroit City Council formed the task force In February 2023. The task force was charged with researching the harm done by systemic racism and developing housing and economic development recommendations that “address historical discrimination against the Black community in Detroit,” according to its website.

However, the task force may need more time to finish its work. The Detroit Free Press reported a host of issues have slowed the task force as it tries to meet its goal.

Members angered about transparency and the direction of the 13-member task force have quit. Two members resigned due to what they called a lack of committee progress.

Anita Belle resigned this month, alleging the task force’s four-member executive committee made decisions without input from everyone. She said she expected “transparent democracy.” Keith Williams, an executive committee co-chair, disputed Belle’s claims and urged the task force to focus on the job at hand.

Belle also brought about another difficult issue — what reparations should look like. She noted the task force could make headway if some members weren’t wedded to the Evanston, Illinois model, which provided one-time payments of $25,000 to 16 residents for mortgage and down payment assistance.

The city already seemed to eschew the one-time-payment approach during its February 2023 announcement on creating the task force. The Free Press reported that the council’s president, Mary Sheffield, said reparations are not about a “one-time payout but a paradigm shift” in repairing the systemic issues that continue to plague Black people today.

Others have brought up issues of transparency. Janis Hazel, the task force treasurer, said she hasn’t received financial reports and doesn’t know the task force’s financial situation. “No invoices, no receipts, no nothing,” Hazel said, as reported by the Free Press. However, project manager Emberly Vick said the information Hazel sought was provided in an email.

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Despite the issues, Sheffield, through a spokesperson, said she does not plan to intervene but will meet with members weekly.

“The task force was created to be community-led, not for council to have a heavy hand in leading the day-to-day operations,” Sheffield’s spokesperson, Kayla Rice, said in an email to the Free Press. “Our office has been in communication with council members who will need to reappoint new members from their respective districts to move that process along.”

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