Open Letter to DC Council on Slavery Reparations

February 27, 2023

Several Council members support the reintroduction of a bill to establish a panel to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans in the District of Columbia. While descendants of US slavery deserve reparations, it does not make much sense in the context of vast and growing racial inequity in DC.

Public Health Economy - Fix the public health economy. The District has struggled with using its legislative and regulatory powers effectively to significantly reduce racial inequity. Racial differences in life expectancy and economic inequity are GROWING. If the District is concerned about the effects of slavery on racial gaps, wouldn't it make more sense to address contemporary sources of policy violence? Much can be achieved if we made the Public Health Economy less fragmented. Increasing economic inequality, housing costs, lax regulation of landlords, including DCHA, neutralize much of the benefits of Medicaid expansion - leading to anarchy in the Public Health Economy. Plus, it is unlikely that the District would have the money to provide reparations that would be a fair reflection of harm.

Fix Government Dysfunction - DC Council is too small for a legislative body of this budget size and economic output. For fully effective oversight and accountability, we need more hands on deck. Money is being spent, but the performance of the Public Health Economy is not seeing major gains. DC too often throws money at problems to see what sticks. In addition, there are under- or unreported misspending and corruption. The value of every public dollar is what counts.

Community Reparations - Community reparations should be prioritized. Given the cost of housing and the likely limited amount of reparations per individual, many African Americans would likely take any payment to move outside of the District (e.g., use as down payment to buy a home in Maryland). This would erode the city's diversity both in terms of race and income. There is of course the possibility that this is the point. Instead, reparations should be focused on communities where reparations can retain DC residents and build strong communities. Use eminent domain. Heavily subsidize Black space-making, emotional needs, cultural restoration, and community strengthening...and for God's sake, stop all of this gentrification. There have been repeated requests for a resilience fund in Southwest.

Contemporary Washington, DC - The District has a very poor record of addressing root causes of racial inequity. Community reparations should target groups and individuals negatively affected by policy violence in contemporary Washington, DC. For starters...