A city in Illinois has announced it will create a reparations fund for its African American community through a new tax on marijuana sales.
Recreational use of the drug will become legal in the state from January and officials in Evanston, which is 12 miles north of Chicago, have voted to approve a 3 per cent tax on the sales to fund a local reparations programme.
The tax is expected to generate between $500,000 and $750,000 annually for the reparations fund, which will be capped at $10 million over the next ten years.
The city’s lawmakers will meet next week to determine exactly how the fund will be distributed, but one idea being proposed is for the money to go towards things like skills training or financial assistance for down payments on a home in the area.
The fund will be available to all of the city’s black residents, rather than merely those who can prove they had an ancestor who was enslaved, as long as they can meet certain residency criteria.
The move comes amid a renewed national debate over whether the federal government should pay reparations to the descendants of former slaves.
This summer the House of Representatives held a hearing on a bill which would establish a commission to study how a restitution programme would work, and several Democratic presidential candidates have indicated their support for the idea.
However polling suggests the majority of the American public opposes monetary reparations, while President Donald Trump and other senior Republicans have publicly criticised the idea.
Robin Simmons, the alderman who proposed the reparations bill, said the hope was to “implement funding to directly invest in black Evanston”.
Ms Simmons said the source of the reparations fund was fitting, given the federal government’s “war on drugs” campaign disproportionately affected African Americans for several decades.
African Americans accounted for 71 per cent of all those arrested for marijuana possession in Evanston during the past three years – a trend which mirrors the national picture.
Ms Simmons added that the reparations plan would also help African Americans who have been priced out of the city by high property taxes and racially biased lending practices.
US census figures show Evanston’s black population fell from around 22.5 per cent in 2000 to under 17 per cent in 2017.
“This [reparations fund] is something radical to preserve the black population and let the black community know that we see the flight,” Ms Simmons told theWashington Post
However, not all of the city’s lawmakers support the measure. Alderman Thomas Suffredin voted against the proposal, arguing more detail was needed on how the funding will be dispensed.
“In a town full of financial needs and obligations, I believe it is bad policy to dedicate tax revenue from a particular source, in unknown annual amounts, to a purpose that has yet to be determined,” he said in a message to his constituents.
Ms Simmons said she wants the reparations to be distributed as direct payments to black residents, rather than “another diversity policy”.
City officials and national reparations advocates will decide on the details of the programme at a town hall meeting on December 11.