The conversations and movement around reparations for African-American descendants of U.S slavery continues to rise.
Last year, The City of Los Angeles established the Reparations Advisory Commission, to establish a reparations pilot program for a group of Black residents.
California also recently became the first state to enact its own reparations task force. Lawmakers first presented a bill for reparations in 1989. However, it would never pass.
Following the end of the civil war, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order 15 was signed, which allocated 400,000 acres of land to newly freed slaves in the south.
This is where the famous ’40 acres and a mule line comes from.
However, newly freed slaves in the south would never receive this land. When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, successor Andrew Jackson, would return the land back to those in the confederacy.
H.R 40 was introduced by Texas Senator Sheila Jackson in 2019, and passed the House last year. The bill proposes an apology for African-American slavery and a proposal for reparations.
Jackson says that if the bill is not passed by the senate, she will encourage President Biden to sign an executive order.
While African-American political leaders and community members are working to ensure H.R 40 becomes law, what can cities do at the local level to address wealth gaps and economic barriers facing their Black residents?
Evanston, Illinois, became the first U.S. city to enact a reparations plan for the inequities that have hindered longtime Black residents from building generational wealth.
Socioeconomic conditions of poor and working-class Black communities in Los Angeles have been declining since the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Much of this decline is due to the explosion of crack/cocaine in the inner city community of South Central, L.A.
The subsequent war on drugs to offset the crack epidemic, would lead to trillions of wasted tax dollars through failed policies, police militarization, and a new wave of mass incarceration.
The famous 1994 crime bill introduced mandatory sentencing laws targeted mainly at Black men.
Those in possession of “crack” which was prominent in Black communities, would receive 3 years jail time. Possession of cocaine in powder form, found in more affluent and white communities would receive a 3 month jail sentence.
These enhanced sentencing laws funneled Black men through the prison industrial complex in rates that significantly altered family dynamics of the Black community.
When Black men are jailed and removed from their homes and the community under racist drug laws, they are excluded from the economy and declined the opportunity to provide assistance to their families as men.
The war on drugs helped to solidify a poor quality of life for Black Angeleno’s who were unable to move West into more nicer areas like Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights.
If you really want to understand the rapid adoption of crack cocaine in inner cities across the U.S, including South Central, we must analyze and understand the experiences of the Black community in cities like L.A prior to the 1980’s.
Following the end of slavery, African-Americans began to travel en mass to Northern cities including areas like Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York.
These Black families hoped to escape intense racial hatred and discrimination and this was known as the great migration.
What they found, was a more insidious form of anti-Black racism and discrimination, through covert means of segregation imposed on African-Americans.
These types of attitudes would limit access to wealth building for the larger African-American community, despite notable gains for some.
Los Angeles has not always treated their Black residents the best, or allowed the majority to freely obtain wealth in one of the richest cities in the U.S.
Whether through redlining, restrictive housing covenants, police brutality and murder, or African-American communities being crack bombed. The truth of the matter is that Black communities in L.A have been intentionally sabotaged and undermined to limit and control our growth.
So what can be done to increase the quality of life for Black Angeleno’s?
Los Angeles should enact robust measures and reparation plans that can balance economic disparities that have plagued Black L.A for decades.
The roles played and/or blind eyes turned while drugs infested Black L.A through gangs and international drug connections, has yet to be addressed by the city, let alone rectified.
Dedicate resources to respark the idea of self-determination for Black communities. Help support infrastructure for the creation of more Black businesses in L.A. Provide the tools to help restore the economic vitality of Black Angeleno’s who continue to be left behind.