Amherst Moves Forward With Reparations

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A push by reparations activists in Amherst to start a public fund for black people has been greenlit by the town council.

The money is scheduled to come annually, roughly matching Amherst’s current local marijuana tax revenue, which is about $205,000. The council set a ceiling at that figure. The council intends for the arrangement to continue for 10 years, totaling $2 million in reparations. However, the motion does not bind future councils, allowing them to decide to earmark the money annually, depending on the town’s financial health.

Reparations is a proposal to use public funds for black people to make up for slavery and discrimination.

“I want money to repair the harm that we have done to black Americans,” town councilor Pat De Angelis told her fellow councilors during a town council meeting on Monday, June 27.

The proposal comes from the African Heritage Reparation Assembly, which the Amherst town council formed as an advisory committee in June 2021 to develop a plan for reparations.

The council had previously sought recommendations from the finance subcommittee.

The original motion on Monday was for $1 million (with a limit of $205,000 per year) to be put towards reparations.

But councilor Michelle Miller, chairman of the African Heritage Reparations Assembly, made a motion to amend the original motion to $2 million.

“Both numbers, really, $1 [million] and $2 million, are arbitrary. How can we place a price tag on 400 years of anti-black racism and violence,” Miller asked her colleagues. 

Miller mentioned that the city of Evanston, Illinois initially committed $10 million towards reparations and that Evanston has an operating budget four times that of Amherst. Evanston has an annual budget of roughly $360 million. Amherst’s budget is just under $90 million.

Miller added:  “We want to use this fund to make meaningful repair long into the future. If established as an endowment of $2 million, once fully developed, we’re looking at $80,000 per year in reparatory initiatives as opposed to $40,000 on a $1 million fund.”

Miller had previously sought $2 million over 10 years at a finance subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, June 21. The finance subcommittee rejected her amendment and recommended a motion to the town council for $1 million over five years.

Not all councilors were satisfied with the amendment at the meeting on Monday. Councilor Andrew Steinberg, chair of the finance subcommittee, was concerned with burdening future councils, especially given the uncertain state of the economy.

“It is always easier to make a motion to increase than to decrease,” Steinberg said.

But councilor Dorothy Pam disagreed.

“Although I respect the reasoning of the finance committee, I don’t agree with it in this instance,” Pam said. 

“There is no limit; there is no end to what should be done to repair the damage done to black people in America for over 400 years. Yet the request from the African Heritage Reparations Assembly is in fact, modest; it’s limited; it’s manageable. And there are enough safeguards so that we will not be in a position where we have overpromised, and we cannot deliver because of the way it has been set up,” Pam added.

Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke mentioned several concerns with Miller’s amendment but also the motion more generally, especially noting the lack of a plan from the African Heritage Reparations Assembly on how to spend the money. 

Hanneke quoted the charge of the Assembly as being to “develop and recommend to the Town Council a Municipal Reparations Plan that includes both a reparations fund and a community-wide process of reconciliation and repair for harms against Black people.” (Emphasis hers.)

“It doesn’t say develop two plans; it doesn’t say develop separate plans. It says develop one plan that includes both,” Hanneke concluded.

“I don’t think you can fund something until you know what the ‘community-wide process’ is,” she added. 

Councilor De Angelis sympathized with Hanneke, saying that she had several of the same concerns. “But,” De Angelis continued, “what I realize is that the only way we’re going to address white supremacy locally, statewide, nationally is to really honor the black community, the African heritage community.”

“I don’t know how it’s directly going to be used,” she said, referring to the money, “but I trust the black community in Amherst to make those decisions. And that was part and parcel of what we said we wanted when we created the African heritage assembly. So now we’re kinda saying ‘O.K., we kinda want you to do it, but we want you to do it in a certain way.’ And I’m saying maybe we need to disrupt the power structure a little bit, or the way we designed things a little bit.”.

Councilor Elisha Walker agreed with De Angelis, observing that “we’re talking about restorative justice and the best way to move forward restorative justice is to ask those people what they want and to give it to them.”

Miller’s amendment to change $1 million over five years to $2 million over ten years was approved by the town council on Monday by a 10-2 vote, with one member absent.

The amended motion was approved by a 10-2 vote.

The African Heritage Reparations Assembly plans to seek community input as to how the reparations will be spent.


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