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Evanston, Ill is the first city in the US to pay Black citizens reparations for slavery.

For years Evanston, Ill has paid slavery reparations

A midwestern community’s experience with remunerating Black citizens offers practical

lessons for people on all sides of the issue

BY THOMAS F. HARRISON, Contributing Writer

EVANSTON, III (CN)—Reparations for slavery are a political football in many parts of the U.S., but only one American city has actually enacted such a program.

Often nicknamed “the people’s republic of Evanston,” this Illinois suburb of 78,000 half an hour north of Chicago is home to Northwestern University with its 23,000 students and 4,000 faculty members. In 2020 more than 90% of its residents voted for President Biden.

Given that liberal cast, the City Council faced little opposition to the general idea of reparations when it came up for a vote in 2019.

Even nationally, few disagree that discrimination and other lingering effects of slavery have unfairly hampered Black communities’ ability to build generational wealth. Conservative opposition to reparations typically centers not on this point but on the cost and on the difficulty of identifying specific victims (and villains) after so much time has passed.

For Evanston's law department, the potential for a legal challenge based on the Equal Protection Clause was a top concern.

Explaining today its thinking at the time, the law department said the issue wasn't about the general national harm of slavery. “Local governments are limited in their ability to correct past harms insofar as they are only allowed to address harms caused by the local government itself," a representative there said in an exclusive statement.

Such harms were not hard to find. After hearing a number of proposals at public meetings, the city decided to focus on its own history of government-tolerated redlining and housing discrimination — a residual effect of slavery — and to make grants to people who were directly affected by those policies to help them buy and improve homes.

Evanston's de facto racial zoning policy was in effect from roughly 1919 to 1969, leaving Blacks crowded into segregated areas where they were unable to obtain mortgages, often denied electricity and public services, and exposed to industrial pollution.

For reparations, the plan was to offer $25,000 grants to Black people who were adults living in the city at that time, their direct descendants, and anyone who could prove that they suffered housing discrimination in Evanston afterward. The money could be used for a down payment on a home, for home repairs or to pay down a mortgage

.

The law department was also concerned that the money couldn’t simply be taken from the city’s coffers.

 

“Dollars in the general fund are meant to be spent on the general welfare and services for all residents, not a specific few, and certainly not based on a suspect classification such as race,” the department said.

 

So the city opted to slap a special 3 percent tax on local cannabis sales and commit the first $10 million in tax revenue to reparations. In doing so, the city crafted a plan that could make reparations far more palatable to moderates and conservatives in other parts of the country. Conservatives are generally far more suppor- tive of redressing specific civil rights violations to individuals than giving money away to large groups based on vague criteria. And there’s Republican precedent for it: In 1988 President Reagan authorized reparation payments of $20,000 each to nearly 62,000 surviving victims of Japanese internment camps.

 

Many Republicans strongly support expanding homeownership in minority communities. And a tax on pot might not ruffle cultural conservatives who are unlikely to be affected by it.

 

“These factors may combine to make the idea of reparations more politically appealing across the ideological spectrum,” the law department said.

 

“That’s not why the program was designed this way, but hopefully it makes people in other communities understand the value,” added Bobby Burns, a city councilor who represents Evanston’s historically Black Fifth Ward. “Reparations are not about race; they’re about harm.”

 

The law department’s concerns placed limits on the program but successfully shielded it from litigation. While the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch filed a freedom-of-information suit seeking data on Evans- ton’s plan, it chose not to pursue a constitutional challenge once it obtained the documents.

 

Still the political and legal advantages that benefitted Evanston when it started the program did little to ease some of the practical problems that arose. The city intended to approve three cannabis dispensaries and reap from $500,000 to $750,000 in taxes a year, but only one dispensary opened and the revenues came in well below budget.

By 2021 the city had collected $400,000, enough for grants to 16 people out of Evanston’s roughly 12,000 Black residents. The winners were chosen in a lottery from the 138 people who had been able to prove their eligibility. Most of those were elderly longtime residents and a number of them died while waiting for a payment. Of the 16 winners, 12 used the money for home repairs and five of those didn’t use the entire $25,000. Two used the money to pay down their mortgage. The remaining two, siblings Kenneth and Sheila Wideman, declined the grants after deciding that it was impractical to apply for a mortgage on a first home since they were already in their mid-70s.

The city faced criticism not only for the small number of people who were helped but for the fact that residents couldn’t qualify for payments unless they owned a home or were planning to buy one, and only about a third of Evanston’s Black citizens own a home.

“Many African Americans say, ‘I want money, not a housing grant," explained the Reverend Michael Nabors, senior pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Evanston and president of the Evanston NAACP. “But that doesn’t make common sense. If you divided that $10 million by the number of Black people in the city, it’s a pretty paltry sum.

 

"Giving everyone a $200 check doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. But put it in a program to bridge the wealth gap, and that begins to do something," said Nabors. "Reparations ought to create programs to help future generations. But that’s a hard sell because people want something right now.”

Another complaint was that the grant money would ultimately go to banks and contractors, the very groups that profited from the Jim Crow-era housing discrimination. In response, the city urged the organization managing the program, Community Partners for Affordable Housing, to use more Black-owned banks and Black contractors.

 

But the organization pushed back, saying that it had difficulty hiring Black contractors because the work wasn’t as lucrative as what the contractors could obtain elsewhere.

In December 2022 the city expanded the effort by committing an additional $10 million to be funded by a new tax planned for high-end real estate sales. The reparations fund also received $942,000 in donations raised by 18 mostly White churches and synagogues. Last month the city announced plans for 35 to 80 additional grants. Rather than waiting for cannabis revenues, the city council voted to transfer $2 million from its general fund to pay for them, despite the law department’s warnings.

“Taking funds out of the general fund would likely raise a challenge of some kind, most likely under the Equal Protection Clause,” the law department said. Evanston has decided to risk it.

 

Right-wing organizations “will sue you no matter what,” said Alvin Tillery, a political scientist at Northwestern who is studying public reaction to the program. “They live in a made-up world where lots of history never happened and slavery was some sort of full-employment program. If you worry too much, you’ll never try anything.”

On March 2 the city council also voted to give direct cash payments to Kenneth and Sheila Wideman—the siblings who turned down the grant they had won in the initial reparations lottery—making them the first Americans to receive cash as reparations for slavery.

Following complaints that it was unfair to give cash payments to some residents and not others, on March 27 the council voted to allow anyone eligible for a grant to receive it in the form of a cash payment. This led to consternation at the next meeting of the city’s reparations committee because the city lacks the ability to police whether residents who receive cash directly actually use it for housing-related expenses or even whether they spend it in Evanston, two of the original stipulations for the grants.

“We don’t necessarily want to just give money out and have people do whatever they want to do with it, to send money to their cousin Pete who lives in Lansing, Mich.,” said Nabors in a Facebook video. “That’s not what this is for. The reparations money is for helping Black people that are connected and living in Evanston to remain in Evanston and to create opportunities for them to have homeownership.”

The law department was once again worried, warning that direct cash payments could be unconstitutional if they’re not “a narrowly tailored remedy to repair past harm.”

And Judicial Watch is, well, watching. “We’re going to see what rules are put in place,” said Michael Bekesha, a senior attorney at the organization. “The idea was to remedy past discrimination, and paying off a mort- gage goes directly to remedying a violation. But there might be other legal implications if people are using the money not for housing but to go on vacation.”

But people aren’t sending the money to their cousins or using it for vacations, said Burns. The money is still supposed to be used for housing, although that can now include paying rent and utility bills. He acknow- ledged, however, that this requirement is being enforced “on the honor system.”

Another problem is that if recipients are getting cash rather than having the city pay their expenses, they could be subject to income tax, which would reduce the benefit. (The Reagan Japanese reparations program specified that the payments were tax-free, but Evanston has no power to change federal tax policy.) The law department believes that recipients of cash would be subject to income tax unless their income is so low that it qualifies as “needs-based assistance.”

The bottom line is that, while Evanston has helped a number of its residents and created a model that could be politically viable elsewhere, it has still found it hard to achieve far-reaching effects without running into practical and legal obstacles.

"This isn't change that can be a beacon for the nation," complained former alderman Cicely Fleming, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the original proposal because she thought it didn’t go far enough. "It is a dim, weak light."

And yet that light is “already finding support elsewhere,” said Tillery. Former alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who spearheaded the program, went on to found a nonprofit called First Repair that works with communities nationwide on the reparations issue.

Nabors notes that Evanston has gotten inquiries on how to start a similar program from at least a hundred other communities, including San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Detroit, Tampa, St. Paul, Tulsa, Roanoke and Palm Springs.

The key lesson for other communities, Burns said, is that Evanston didn’t just form a committee to study the issue; it first identified a source of funds and then asked the affected community what form of remedy it wanted.

 

“The money is the most important thing. That’s how people know this is real,” he said.

Rapper PnB slain dining 

Here's the latest...

 

LOS ANGELES (CNS)A search was continues for the person who gunned down rapper PnB Rock inside a well-known South Los Angeles restaurant, with police saying a social media post apparently led the attacker to the eatery to rob the singer of his jewelry.


The shooting was reported at 1:23 p.m. Monday at Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles at 106 W. Manchester Ave., where the rapper was eating lunch with his girlfriend when a man walked up to the couple, drew a handgun and demanded PnB Rock's jewelry, according to police.


"The suspect shot the victim multiples times, removed property and then left the location in a getaway car," LAPD Capt. Kelly Muniz told reporters.


Witnesses said the suspect and the victim argued during the shooting, which was captured on the restaurant's video surveillance system.


The rapper was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, Muniz said.


Born Rakim Hasheem Allen in Philadelphia, PnB Rock, 30, was based in Los Angeles at the time of his death.


Police closed Manchester Avenue in the vicinity of the shooting after the shooting and searched the immediate area for evidence and the getaway car.


PnB Rock had been at the restaurant with his girlfriend, who had posted a location-tagged photo in a since-deleted Instagram post, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said.


The rapper was "apparently with his girlfriend or a friend of his and as they're there enjoying a simple meal was brutally attacked by an individual who apparently ... came to the location after a social media posting of the artist and his (companion) accompanying him, posting on Instagram a picture of a meal at a location that was tagged," Moore told the Police Commission Tuesday morning, Sept. 13.


Moore said the assailant went to the restaurant in a car, "entered the location, directly attacked Mr. PnB Rock demanding his property, (who) had an extensive amount of jewelry and other valuables."


"A struggle ensued and PnB Rock was shot and killed. Lost his life there, simply over the jewelry and valuables he had on his person."


Investigators were examining security video from inside the restaurant to identify the shooter, Moore said.


On its official Instagram page, Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles posted a statement saying, "We are deeply sad- dened by the death of Rakim Hasheem Allen, also known as PnB Rock, an incredible artist in Los Angeles and everywhere. His passing represents an enormous loss to each and every one of us. Our most heartfelt condo- lences, thoughts and prayers go to the Allen family at this difficult time. The safety of our employees and guests are our utmost priority. We have and will continue to keep our place of business as safe as possible."


The shooting and its apparent link with an Instagram post was reminiscent of the 2020 killing of rapper Pop Smoke in the Hollywood Hills. In that case, the rapper had made a series of social media posts revealing his
location and valuables he had in his possession.


On Twitter, singer Nicki Minaj lamented PnB Rock's killing, writing, "After Pop Smoke there's no way we as rappers or our loved ones are still posting locations to our whereabouts. To show waffles & some fried chicken????! He was such a pleasure to work with. Condolences to his mom & family. This makes me feel so sick. Jesus."

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Vanessa Bryant (center) and family leave court after jury award decision, Aug. 27. Screenshot

Jury award in Kobe Bryant crash amended to $30m

By FRED SHUSTER 

City News Service

 

LOS ANGELES (CNS)—The previously announced $31 million combined jury award against Los Angeles County for Vanessa Bryant and her co-plaintiff in the helicopter crash-site photos trial should have been $30 million, a judge has determined, based on a juror's note delivered less than an hour after the higher number was read aloud in court Wednesday and reported around the world.


At a hearing in federal court Friday, Aug. 26, US District Judge John Walter read into the record that at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, a juror advised the courtroom deputy that there was an error on the verdict form as to Vanessa Bryant, who had been awarded a total of $16 million for past and future damagesincluding $2.5 million to be paid by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for past suffering.


According to a transcript of the Friday proceedings provided to City News Service, the courtroom deputy advised the juror to write a note explaining the alleged error. The juror then prepared a handwritten note that was filed with the court under seal. In the note, the juror stated that Vanessa Bryant should be awarded $1.5 million by the sheriff's department, not $2.5 million, for past damages.


The note states that it was the nine jurors' intent that both plaintiffs Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester be awarded equally, the judge stated.


Walter held a sealed hearing Thursday morning with counsel to discuss the matter and requested briefs by that afternoon.


"In her brief, Plaintiff Vanessa Bryant states that she is willing to agree to an amended verdict and/or judg- ment that reduces her award against the sheriff's department by $1 million to avoid any potential need for examination of jurors after they have already been discharged and potentially exposed to outside influen- ces,'' the judge said.
 

That lowers her total award to $15 million, the same amount levied against the county by jurors on behalf of Chester. Bryant's attorney, Luis Li, told the court that his client "truly feels that it's a just result that she was awarded the same amount as Mr. Chester. From her heart she feels that."


The judge said that in light of the circumstances, recalling the discharged jury would not have been appropriate.
 

"This trial and the verdict has received national publicity," he said. "The jury in this case not only left the building but had to be escorted out of the building to ensure their privacy. The juror did not notify the Court

of the potential error until almost 35 to 40 minutes after the verdicts were read after which major news organizations, including CNN, were already reporting the results of the verdict."


The judge asked attorneys to meet and confer and prepare and file separate proposed judgments for both Bryant and Chester by the end of the month.
 

At the conclusion of the hour-plus hearing, Bryant attorney Luis Li said that in his 30 years of practice, he's never dealt with such a "sticky issue" relating to jurors.


The damages levied against Los Angeles County were awarded to compensate for past and future mental anguish caused by the actions of county personnel who snapped and shared cell phone pictures taken at the January 2020 accident scene.


Both plaintiffs lost spouses and daughters in the crash. Bryant's husband and daughter Gianna, and Chester's wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton died in the crash on a remote Calabasas hillside.
 

Jurors in downtown Los Angeles reached their verdict after roughly four-and-a-half hours of deliberations on the trial's 11th day. Vanessa Bryant wept as the verdict was announced and a short time later posted a photo of herself with Kobe and Gianna, with the caption, "All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!"

 

Thursday, the widow announced plans to donate proceeds from her part of the judgment to a foundation named in her husband's and daughter's memory. The nonprofit Mamba and Mambacita Sports foundation offers sports education to underserved athletes. Kobe Bryant's nickname was Black Mamba.
 

In calculating damages, the jury found that the sheriff's department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department both violated Bryant and Chester's constitutional rights to privacy for their loved ones in death.
 

Mira Hashmall, a private attorney who represented the county in the case, issued a statement after the verdict saying attorneys "will be discussing next steps with our client—meanwhile, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss."


While the jury held the sheriff's department liable for maintaining a practice of sharing photos taken at accident or crime scenes, the county fire department was not found to have such a custom. The verdict came one day after what would have been Kobe Bryant's 44th birthday, and it happened on "Mamba Day"

in Los Angeles, which celebrates his life each year on Aug. 24, or 8-24, the two numbers he wore during his 20-year career with the Lakers.
 

An attorney for Chester had asked the panel to compel the county to pay a total of $75 million split between the widow and Chester for pain and suffering engendered when the pictures were snapped and displayed for no good reason to a bartender, attendees of an awards ceremony sent by a sheriff's deputy to a colleague while they were playing a video game.


Hashmall argued during her summation Wednesday that the photos have not surfaced in public in the two-and-a-half years since the tragedy, which proves they have been permanently deleted.
 

"This is a photo case, but there are no photos," the attorney told jurors in Los Angeles federal court. "There's a simple truth that cannot be ignoredthere's been no public dissemination."

 

The county did not dispute that some photos were shared with a small number of deputies and firefighters. Defense attorneys maintained that all images taken by first responders were destroyed on orders of the sheriff and fire chief, and no longer exist in any form. The photos never entered the public domain or on the internet, the county insisted.


However, Bryant and Chester insisted they do not believe the pictures won't someday surface. Chester, an Irvine financial adviser, said on the stand he was "in disbelief at first. It never crossed my mind in my wildest imagination" that deputies and firefighters would share photos of his wife Sarah and their daughter Payton.


"It was grief on top of grief," he said. "I want justice and accountability."


The nine-member jury included a nun, a TV production worker, a college student, a real estate investor, a pharma- ceutical researcher and a restaurant host.
 

Along with Chester and Bryant's loved ones, the crash killed Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.


Two other families separately settled with the county over the photos for $1.25 million each. All of the victims' families reached a settlement with the helicopter company over the crash, but those terms remain confidential.

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