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“There is no question that momentum is building around what we’ve done in Evanston,” Simmons said in an interview.

While California created a commission last year to study statewide reparations, movements to establish them have struggled at the state and federal levels. Efforts in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Oregon have slowed or stalled altogether, making Evanston’s government the first to sign off on substantial sums to Black residents in the name of correcting a longstanding racial injustice.

That milestone has given social justice activists a concrete example to wield as they pitch broader reparations to a nation that has wrestled with how — and if — its government should address the systemic wrongs of slavery.

Victory in Evanston is likely to be measured by cities hundreds of miles away: places like Amherst, Mass.; Asheville, N.C.; Providence, R.I.; and Burlington, Vt. How reparations play out in those cities — and who gets to define what they are — will demonstrate whether Evanston is the model activists envision or an outlier that shows how polarized the country remains in coping with the legacy of racism.

“It takes a progressive, well-educated electorate. So yeah, places similar to Evanston will have more success,” said Alvin Tillery, Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University, comparing it to conservative enclaves least likely to take reparations seriously. “Asheville and Burlington are more similar to Evanston than Cherokee County, Georgia, or where [Texas Rep.] Louie Gohmert serves.”

And if reparations are ever to become a real goal for Washington or statehouses, it will be places like Evanston that laid the political and policy groundwork to make it happen.

In Detroit, Keith Williams, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus, is quietly leading an effort to collect the 3,400 signatures by June 15 to put reparations on the city’s 2021 ballot.

“You saw Black Lives Matters signs in front of homes in white neighborhoods,” he said in an interview, noting how he was “inspired” after hearing about Evanston’s decision.

The language Williams is pushing would establish a committee to create a reparations fund and make recommendations on how to allocate money to those affected by racially restrictive covenants and housing discrimination.

Putting money in

What distinguishes Evanston’s program is that it comes with cash, and during an economic recession no less. It’s tailored to Black people who can demonstrate their ancestors either lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 — when racism was a matter of official policy — or can show they faced housing discrimination during that time. The funds are also purpose-driven: The $25,000 is specifically for buying a home or improving one they have.

Simmons and racial justice activists see the city’s move, which will dole the money out over 10 years, as the start of a grassroots effort that might eventually spur Congress to enact a federal reparations law. There’s precedent for small towns leading a national change. Desegregating the bus system in Montgomery, Ala., started with Rosa Parks’ iconic protest, and interracial marriage had dozens of small victories before the Supreme Court came around in 1967. Simmons also points to the more recent Ban the Box effort to remove criminal background checkboxes on employment applications that started in Hawaii and spread to Minnesota, Illinois and other states.

“Local initiatives have a history of inspiring Congress and communities to pursue and advocate and take action on long-overdue justice legislation in the United States,” said Simmons, who now sits on the New York-based National African American Reparations Commission.

Reparations aren’t new in the U.S. In 1988, the federal government disbursed more than $1.6 billion to more than 82,000 Japanese Americans who endured internment in this country during World War II. The reparations law signed by then-President Ronald Reagan admitted that internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

A congressional committee advanced reparations-related legislation, H.R. 40, for the first time in April. But it’s unclear whether the bill, which would set up a commission to study the issue and the U.S. government’s role in African American disenfranchisement, might reach the House floor. Its odds in the Senate are essentially zero.

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Activists worry Democrats in the House won’t move forward with the measure for fear it would jeopardize 2022 midterms.

“Winning elections plays a big role in causing things to happen. It’s important to maintain the majority so that you can make some things happen in the next round,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who sees the issue gaining momentum anyway. “I’m optimistic. It’s been slow, but change is oftentimes slow. And it’s more evolutionary than revolutionary.”

Until the federal government embraces an approach to reparations for its part in slavery, smaller municipalities seem eager to experiment after Evanston made headway.

“It can be the model for other cities that want to step into the national debate,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said in an interview. “Race relations in this country has been a divisive issue since the Constitutional Convention and … as a country, it’s something we’ve never fully addressed head-on.”

Providence released a report earlier this year on the history of Black and Indigenous injustice in the New England city as part of what Elorza calls a first step in a reconciliation process. The city followed up with a request for proposals to talk with voters about the effects of those injustices and what might be done now.

The final phase — reparations — has proven to be the most challenging for Providence for the same reasons places like Asheville and other cities get stuck: cost.

“Finding money for this at the municipal level is a challenge in North Carolina because cities have very limited options for generating new sources of revenue,” said Julie Mayfield, a former Asheville City Council member who now serves in the state Senate. “Asheville is using all of the authority it has to generate revenue and really the only option that the city has to raise a lot of new revenue is to increase property taxes. And at this point, that is a challenge.”

Some faith groups have urged congregations to consider reparations, a message that’s resonated particularly strong with Episcopal and Protestant churches that had a greater role in slavery. And a few schools have raised the idea after facing pressure to tackle their racist roots — most notably Georgetown University, which announced plans in 2019 to build a fund for descendants of enslaved people it sold in 1838.

“As more organizations look at this — faith groups, businesses, universities — I think more people will come around,” said Michele Miller, co-founder of Reparations For Amherst, an organization she formed with Matthew Andrews in wake of the George Floyd killing by police last year.

The two approached the council in the small Massachusetts town to draft a resolution condemning racism, and three council members worked on the effort.

Last week, the town council’s finance committee proposed creating a fund for reparations using $209,000 in reserves out of the next budget, a move that requires support from two-thirds of the full council and is slated for later this month. An African Heritage Reparation Coalition recently approved by the council will then develop more proposals for generating money in future years.

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Crime

Joe Biden: “Police Chief Murray…Excuse Me, Police Chief Mary, Police Chief Murphy Paul”

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President Joe Biden said, “Police Chief Murray…excuse me, Police Chief Mary, Police Chief Murphy Paul,” during remarks he delivered at the White House on guns and the rise in crime on 6/23/2021.

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Critical Race Theory

General’s response to Matt Gaetz leaves him shaking his head

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The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, says he wants to know what caused the January 6th insurrection and fired back at Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) question about critical race theory.

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New Jersey lawmakers advance $46.4B budget minutes after making it public

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It totals $1.6 billion more than the $44.8 billion spending plan Murphy proposed in February, buoyed in large part by billions of dollars in better-than-expected revenues, and more than $4 billion Democrats who control the Legislature agreed to borrow last fall. There’s also $6.2 billion the state received from the most recent federal stimulus package.

Republican lawmakers fumed that they were shut out of the process, and complained they didn’t see the budget bills until the last minute.

“There has been such a rush and no transparency on this that we’re going to either vote no or abstain on these budget bills. There’s no way, physically, anybody could have read these or gone through them,” said Assemblymember Hal Wirths (R-Sussex), a member of his chamber’s budget committee. “I know sausage-making is ugly, but I’m not going to partake in it today.”

Democratic lawmakers negotiated the spending plan behind closed doors, and details were released piecemeal on Monday through joint statements issued by Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. The full spending plan wasn’t made available until late Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Democratic lawmakers vote it out of committee.

The Assembly Budget committee advanced the bill, 5-4; the Senate Budget Committee cleared it, 8-3.

The Senate committee considered dozens of bills Tuesday —  including a number pertaining to the budget — that were introduced on a rolling basis during the marathon meeting.

That process led to confusion, with committee Chair Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) repeatedly calling up bills that weren’t yet available for review. At one point, his committee approved legislation that appropriates nearly $115 million of lapsed funds from the current fiscal year budget, even though text of the bill wasn’t publicly available.

“Every year, you guys say it wasn’t transparent enough. But I believe it w as no different than any other year,” Sarlo told reporters after his committee adjourned, later explaining away the $115 million bill by saying, “it’s no different from any supplemental appropriation that has gone on for the last 30 years down here.”

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Based on the lofty bar set by previous cycles, the 2022 fiscal year budget is running ahead of schedule. With Murphy and all 120-seats in the Legislature on the ballot in November, there’s little chance of midnight negotiating sessions and last-minute requests for special appropriations from individual lawmakers that will risk a government shutdown.

And unlike the previous years, New Jersey has money to spend for FY 2022, with $5.2 billion in better-than-expected revenues as well as the federal stimulus money.

Murphy has the authority to line-item veto certain spending or reject the budget in its entirety, but that’s unlikely to happen this year as both sides have already reached agreement.

The budget must be in place by midnight June 30.

Democrats defended this year’s budget for what it includes, such as the massive contribution to the pension system, prioritizing the debt and investing in in special education and health care.

Some of the top line items include: $500 million for rental assistance, $250 million for utility relief, $180 million for HVAC improvements to schools and $100 million to help reopen child care centers.

“These are priorities that care for those who are most in need,” Assembly Budget Committee member John McKeon (D-Essex) said before “proudly“ voting yes. “I think this is just an amazing budget and the product of the collective efforts of leadership, the governor and the values that we all stand for.“

Assemblymember Serena DiMaso (R-Monmouth) read through the budget score sheet, questioning certain appropriations: “Hoboken Community Center, a million dollars. Highland Park, another 750,000 dollars. My favorite is the spotted lantern fly, which gets 515,000 dollars “My question is, who wants this stuff?” she said. “And why doesn’t the public know who asked for this money to be put aside for these things? Some of them sound like George Costanza made them up.”

The Senate committee took several breaks to regroup as GOP members scrambled to mount opposition to major bills they’d barely seen, or hadn’t seen at all. As the committee hearing crept into its third hour, Sarlo began reading off text of NJ S4000 (20R), which would appropriate $3.7 billion to a “New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund,” before it was distributed to members.

“This is no way to run an asylum,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said.

The committee promptly took a recess.

“It reeks of Nancy Pelosi, we have to pass it to find out what’s in it,” state Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland) told legislative staff as he went into the break.

Daniel Han contributed to this report.

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