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St. Louis mayor appoints commission to consider reparations

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is appointing a reparations commission that will “recommend a proposal to begin repairing the harms that have been inflicted” by slavery, segregation and racism.

St. Louis joins a growing list of places trying to determine how to make amends for past practices that have harmed Black Americans. The new commission will hold open monthly meetings. There is no stated deadline for recommendations.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones addresses the press after touring the both St. Louis jails, on Saturday, April 24, 2021, outside the Medium Security Institution, known as the City Workhouse. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

St. Louis has long been among the nation’s most segregated cities. Nearly half of its 300,000 residents are Black and many of them live in north St. Louis, where rates of crime and poverty are high. The median household income for white St. Louisans is $55,000, nearly twice the median income for Black households, $28,000. Racial justice advocates blame decades of racism.

Concerns about racial discrimination in the St. Louis area were amplified in 2014 when Michael Brown, a Black teenager, was shot to death by a white officer in the St. Louis County town of Ferguson, Missouri. Though the officer was not charged, investigations showed how Blacks in the region were more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops and victimized by debilitating fines and court fees.

Jones, a Democrat, on Wednesday signed an executive order establishing a volunteer commission that will ultimately recommend how the city should make reparations. The nine-member commission will include a civil rights advocate, clergy member, attorney, academic, public health professional and a youth, the mayor’s office said.

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“The people closest to the problems are closest to the solution,” Jones said in a statement. “I look forward to reviewing this commission’s work to chart a course that restores the vitality of Black communities in our city after decades of disinvestment. We cannot succeed as a city if one half is allowed to fail.”

Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. said segregation and racism have “without a doubt” harmed Blacks in St. Louis and elsewhere in the state.

“Reparations would be one way to begin, and it’s important to consider all the options,” Chapel said.

President Joe Biden’s White House has given its support to studying reparations for Black Americans, even as polling has found resistance to financial payments to descendants of slaves, divided along racial lines. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 77% of Black Americans support reparations, compared to 18% of white Americans.

Jones speaks at a press conference at City Hall, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in St. Louis, Mo. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Last year, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, became the first city to make reparations available to Black residents. The city plans to use tax money from recreational marijuana sales to distribute $10 million over the next decade. Eligible Black households will get $25,000 for home repairs, down payments on property, and interest or late penalties on property in the city.

In November, Providence, Rhode Island’s Democratic mayor, Jorge Elorza, approved a $10 million budget for a reparations program. Several other cities are considering reparations, spurred in part by the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating a reparations task force in 2020, making California the first state to move ahead with a study and plan. A 500-page document released in June cited the harm suffered by descendants of enslaved people even today through discriminatory laws and actions, from housing and education to employment and the legal system.

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