Council President Mary Sheffield has four people in mind to lead a 13-member task force that will study how to make up for historic injustices endured by Detroit’s Black population.
Sheffield told BridgeDetroit she will likely appoint Planning Commission Chair Lauren Hood, Detroit attorney and real estate developer Chase Cantrell, Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus Chair Keith Williams and MDP Deputy Voter Protection Director Dorian Tyus as executive committee members of the Reparations Task Force.
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The council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution establishing the structure of the city’s voter-approved task force. The vote sets in motion the process of appointing members to study housing and economic development programs that address generational discrimination against the city’s Black majority.
Sheffield, who is responsible for the leadership appointments, said Hood, Cantrell, Williams and Tyus were part of a steering committee that studied how other major cities are addressing the question of reparations. Each, she said, also has been a vocal supporter of leveling the playing field for Black Detroiters who have been held back by a legacy of systematic discrimination.
“We really wanted it (the task force) to be driven by these individuals within our community who have the expertise to inform the council on the various recommendations and decisions,” Sheffield said Tuesday. “(The council) will submit our individual ideas to the task force to research and provide their own recommendations. I’m really excited about empowering them to be able to make informed decisions.”
Applicants must be a resident of the city for at least six years and have some expertise in preferred fields, like history and law, but members are not required to be Black.
In November, eight in 10 voters supported creation of the task force. The group will be responsible for drafting recommendations for social initiatives in eight categories, including the right to live free of discrimination, water and sanitation, environmental health, safety, recreation, access and mobility, housing and the fulfillment of basic needs.
The task force is required to provide recommendations to the City Council within 18 months of its first meeting.
Besides the executive committee, nine additional task force members will be appointed by the full council. City Council members also are allowed to nominate themselves. Each council person can pick two nominees to be interviewed by the council’s Internal Operations Committee. The finalists will be selected by a vote of the full council at an undetermined date.
Residents interested in applying can email the council’s Legislative Policy Division at email@example.com. There is no standardized application form.
Task force meetings will be open to the public. Sheffield encouraged Detroiters to get involved, either by stepping forward to join the group or by participating in public meetings.
The resolution approved Tuesday states “Black people in Detroit confront some of the worst racial disparities in America” and reparations are a “longoverdue recognition” that Black people face unequal conditions after centuries of enslavement and second-class citizenship rooted in discriminatory policies created in both public and private sectors.
“Reparations are intended as a way to overcome the reluctance to take action to cure these systemic ills, and to help create true equality,” the resolution adds. “The Detroit City Council strongly supports reparations for centuries of human enslavement and post-emancipation systemic discrimination and racism.”
The resolution outlines several broad examples of mass historic injustices endured by Black Detroiters, starting with the eslavement of Africans who were brought to the United States and continuing through the abolition of slavery, with references to sharecropping, convict leasing, Jim Crow laws, redlining, unequal education, deplorable housing and disproportionate treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system.
The resolution points to the clearing of families and demolition of homes in the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods in the 1950s to make room for Interstate 375 and upscale housing projects. Bulldozing the predominantly Black neighborhoods represented a major loss for Black businesses, social institutions and housing in Detroit’s eastside. The resolution also notes reparations were among the demands of protesters who took to the streets in 2021 after George Floyd’s murder in March 2020.
Detroit is home to one-in-three of all Black residents in Michigan, according to 2020 census data. The most recent count of Detroit’s population found that 78% of the city is Black, 11% is white, and 5% of the city identified as multi-racial.
Sheffield said funding hasn’t yet been identified for proposals that will eventually come from the task force. Federal American Rescue Plan Act funds could be one possible source, but Sheffield said those conversations will happen in the future.
“I think it’s too early right now to do that,” Sheffield said of possible funding sources. “You want to first of all get the task force seated. Then, I think it is really going to be incumbent upon the members of the task force to figure out what direction is next, the best next steps and how we move forward.”
The areas of expertise sought for representation cover 12 professions, including: historian, legal, impacted resident, community/grassroots, housing expert, social justice advocate, economist, senior citizen, urban planner, youth representative, restorative justice advocate and clergy/religion.
A public opinion survey, now closed, also found a preference for task force members who are long-time residents of Detroit. The survey, which received 412 responses, showed strong support for a task force with six to 15 members who have lived in the city for at least 6 years. A majority of respondents said being Black shouldn’t be a requirement to serve on the task force.
A draft ordinance establishing the task force was provided by the Legislative Policy Division, but has not been voted on by the council. Sheffield said the ordinance is not off the table, but approving a resolution “is sufficient at this time.”
“We may actually go back to revisit the ordinance structure,” Sheffield said. “I think our ordinance codifies in the council’s record from a legislative standpoint, so that even if a new council comes or whatever, it’s law; this task force has to be in place. A resolution is not binding, and an actual ordinance has more power. We’ll probably come back and do that after we get moving on the actual appointment process.”
The draft ordinance includes a call from the City Council for the state to end Michigan Constitution’s ban on affirmative action and to include a pro-reparations policy.
The proposed ordinance would take immediate effect if supported by two-thirds of the City Council. A simple majority vote in support of the ordinance would make it take effect 30 days later.