Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Election Season and the Passage of Reparations Legislation

Over the next six months, during the height of the election season, the Reparations Coalition, along with several allies, held events and directs actions throughout the city demanding that Mayor Emanuel, other mayoral candidates and individuals seeking aldermanic office support the ordinance. People sang in, died-in, and curated a pop-up art memorial at City Hall; held a Kwanza action at Daley Plaza; created a light installation demanding "Reparations Now" outside of Mayor Emanuel's home; took over CTA trains; and held Twitter power hours, using social media every step of way with the unifying hashtag #RahmRepNow. Fueled by the attention brought to police violence against Black people by the Black Lives Matter movement, the reparations ordinance became the key demand at every police brutality demonstration in the City.

On Valentine's Day, 2015, on the eve of the mayoral election, we held a raucous rally for reparations at the storied Chicago Temple with hundreds in attendance. We called on Mayor Emanuel to "have a heart" and pass the reparations ordinance, and we passed out a voter's guide entitled "Who's Right on Reparations" listing which of the mayoral and aldermanic candidates supported the ordinance. Days after the rally, CTJM received a call from Corporation Counsel Steve Patton asking for a meeting to discuss the ordinance.

The following week, Mayor Emanuel failed to get fifty percent of the vote, prompting a run-off election in April of 2015. We then had a series of meetings with Mayor Emanuel's administration that were at times heated and contentious. We succeeded in forcing the administration to meet many of our demands, but we also made some very painful compromises. Right after the run-off election, we reached an agreement with Mayor Emanuel and his administration.

Ultimately, the legislation that passed as a result of the negotiations provided for the creation of a $5.5 million reparations fund to pay up to $100,000 to each eligible Burge torture survivor still alive; the provision of counseling services to police torture survivors and family members at a dedicated facility on the South Side of Chicago; free tuition at Chicago's City Colleges for Burge torture survivors and their family members, including their grandchildren; job placement for Burge torture survivors in programs for formerly incarcerated people; priority access to City of Chicago's re-entry support services, including job training and placement, counseling, food, & transportation assistance, senior care, health care, and small business support services; a formal apology from the Mayor and City Council for the torture committed by Burge and his men; a permanent public memorial acknowledging the torture committed by Burge and his men; and a history curriculum on the Burge torture cases to be taught to all Chicago Public School students in the 8th and 10th grades.

On May 6th, the reparations legislation was presented to the City Council for a vote. Fourteen of the torture survivors were in attendance, and upon the unanimous passage of legislation, they received a standing ovation from Mayor Emanuel and the council members. It was a transformative moment. Years ago, the Chicago Reader branded Chicago a "Town Without Pity," and on May 6th, we made it a city that cared. At the victory party that night, Darrell Cannon, a leader of the reparations campaign, marveled with tears in his eyes: "Reparations? For Black people? In America?"

The passage of the reparations legislation made history. It is the first time a municipality in the U.S. has provided reparations for racially motivated police violence. The movement made the city of Chicago provide money to survivors and for services it was not legally obligated to.

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