Jun 22, 2021 - News

Denver's mayor is leading cities' push for reparations

A photo of Mayor Michael Hancock speaking on a stage at a Black Lives Matter rally

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks at a Black Lives Matter rally last June. Photo: Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images

Reparations for slavery could be coming to Black residents in Denver in the form of a new pilot program.

Driving the news: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is co-leading a group of 10 other U.S. mayors who have pledged to pay restitution to a small group of Black people in their cities to counteract historic and continued discrimination of African Americans in America.

Why it matters: The program is intended to be a model for the federal government and demonstrate "how the country can more quickly move from conversation to action," according to the group's website.

  • If successful and applied nationwide, proponents say the program could help address the country's staggering racial wealth gap that has left Black families with a U.S. median wealth of $24,100, compared with $188,200 for white families, according to the Federal Reserve's 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances.

How it works: Mayors in the group — from Los Angeles to Providence, Rhode Island — will each form an advisory committee of local, Black-led organizations to advise on the city's reparations strategy, including how to fund the pilot programs.

  • The programs will be implemented once funding is identified, with the expectation that they will "vary in style and scope."
  • Plus: Group members commit to supporting federal bill H.R. 40, which seeks to establish a commission to "examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies."

Zoom in: In Denver, the program won't be developed in time to make the 2022 budget, Hancock's spokesperson Mike Strott told Axios.

  • The mayor's office did not have details about how much the program would cost, how it would be paid for or how Black residents would be selected. Hancock will be working with the group's co-leader, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as other mayoral offices to determine next steps.
  • In the meantime, Hancock's spokesperson said the mayor's office would "welcome feedback" from the community.

What they're saying: The mayor's commitment is significant because it helps build a "culture of repair," said Harold Fields, the leader of the Denver Black Reparations Council, who's been working to progress reparations in the city for 23 years.

  • "The truth is that the feds won't do things unless they get pressure from the grassroots, and (cities) are laboratory examples of what can be done to make this happen," he told Axios.

Yes, but: The mayors acknowledge their pilot programs will be a drop in the bucket when it comes to the estimated $12 trillion in federal spending needed to bridge the nation's wealth gap.

The big picture: Organized efforts to pay reparations are gaining traction in cities across the country, from Asheville, North Carolina and Detroit to San Francisco and Evanston, Illinois.


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