Slavery Reparations Bill set to advance through US House

Washington, April 15 2021: The US Congress is debating over a bill that would create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for Black people as the nation undergoes a racial reckoning. The potential bill faces challenges since no Republican has joined the democratic sponsors and the first time such a bill was introduced was 30 years ago but it never advanced.

Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said the legislation is intended to “begin a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.”

The Congressional panel seeks to address the discrimination during the period of slavery from 1610 up until the present day. The goal id to study and propose remedies such as financial reparation. House Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, the bill’s chief sponsor, said such a commission would be a long-overdue effort to confront the stark societal disparities occurring in Black communities today, and recommend solutions. Lee, who is Black, also delivered a message to her Republican colleagues: “Do not cancel us tonight,” she implored. “Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission.” She also assured that President Biden remained “committed” to the bill.

The Bill notes Black Americans continue to suffer “debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships” compared to white Americans, including an unemployment rate more than twice that of whites, and an average of less than 1/16 of the wealth of white families.

Though the Republicans acknowledged the evils of slavery, they nonetheless spoke out against the legislation, with some criticizing the commission’s expected $20 million cost. The Bill would likely receive a floor vote in the House. But the Senate hurdle is higher. At least 10 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats in order for the bill to pass the chamber.

The debate comes when racial tensions run high in the city of Minneapolis where the high-profile trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with the murder of George Floyd is underway and where another Black man died as a result of police force over the weekend.

At the height of the slavery period, from 1619 and 1865, approximately four million Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the original colonies and the United States. The bill says that in the decades following slavery, the government helped create “persistent systemic structures of discrimination on living African Americans.”

Last month, local lawmakers in Evanston, Illinois voted to give funds to Black residents as a form of reparations for housing discrimination, thereby becoming the first US city to propose such a plan. The move could become a model for other US communities.

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