The U.S. Conference of Mayors is expressing support for Democratic-proposed legislation introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to commission a study on reparations to African-Americans.
“We recognize and support your legislation as a concrete first step to guide the actions of both federal and local leaders who have promised to do better by our Black residents,” Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville and president of the Conference of Mayors, wrote in a letter dated July 10. The conference represents more than 1,400 U.S. cities with populations of greater than 30,000.
The call for reparations to the nation’s 41 million Black Americans has renewed amid racial injustice protests across the country. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has not fully committed reparations but has expressed support for a study on the matter.
Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, recently told Fox News he supported the idea of paying $14 trillion in reparations to African-Americans.
“Nobody talks about cash, but Black people understand cash,” Johnson told Fox News.
Under his proposal, an estimated 40 million African-Americans would get $350,000 in direct cash payments over 30 years (costing the average taxpayer roughly $2,900 a year, according to his office). The $350,000 would signify the wealth disparity between African-Americans and white Americans.
The idea is deeply controversial. Some Democratic lawmakers have warmed to the discussion, but often in the form of commissions and other partial measures. A Fox News poll last year found most Americans are opposed to cash reparations. And with the government already spending trillions on coronavirus relief and the national debt pushing past $26 trillion, concerns about the country’s fiscal stability would pose an obvious hurdle.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last year said of the idea: “I think we’re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.”
Another study from three college professors on the extreme end of estimates has put the price tag of adequate reparations at $6.2 quadrillion, a payment of $151 million to every Black American.
The study, “Wealth Implications of Slavery and Racial Discrimination for African American Descendants of the Enslaved,” determined the price tag essentially by calculating the unpaid hours that slaves worked and the cost of discrimination the descendants of slaves faced and adds interest.
When Booker announced his bill last year to study the possibility of reparations he said it was “a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country. It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed.”
Jackson Lee introduced a companion bill in the House, which if passed into law would set up a commission to study the impact of slavery and continued discrimination against black Americans and make recommendations on reparation proposals for the descendants of slaves.