Former Evanston Councilman Robin Rue Simmons and Mayor Daniel Biss brought the conversation about repairs to Temple Jeremiah in Northfield earlier this week in a conversation moderated by Rabbi Paul F. Cohen.
“I feel like I was elected to be a cheerleader for an amazing program, but it’s a program that we have because of the work of people who came before me,” Biss said.
The conversation took place in person and on Zoom on April 24, and attendees were able to submit questions to share with Cohen. Biss and Simmons said their personal backgrounds naturally skewed them toward repair work.
Biss said he was Jewish and was the grandson of Holocaust survivors on his mother’s side. His grandmother survived Auschwitz. After many years, he said, his grandmother received reparation funds from the German government, but she didn’t talk much about it.
He recalls that although the funds did little to make up for what was lost, it was important for her to receive tangible acknowledgment of the injury.
“We are part of this country,” he said. “As citizens, we have a responsibility to contribute to the repayment of our country’s debts.
Rue Simmons – whose past includes starting a bookstore in the Fifth Ward that offered free after-school programs as well as an Evanston construction company that strictly employed black business owners to develop affordable housing – says that ‘she came to repair work because of her experience coming from the Fifth Ward.
“Being born and raised in the Fifth Ward and having experienced divestment, the least amenities, the least livability in our neighborhood…it informed all of my entrepreneurial endeavors and later led me to run for office” , she said.
Biss, Simmons talk repair mechanics, reviews
During the session, viewers asked questions about Evanston’s repair program.
When someone asked why the cannabis tax was the only source of revenue, Rue Simmons replied that cannabis was an appropriate new source of revenue to use, given that the city has over-policed the black community for consumption. of marijuana. She said that although black people make up 71% of arrests, they only make up 16% of the population.
“Before that came into our general fund and got allocated to something else that we had to negotiate, that was an important first step in capturing that,” she said.
The cannabis sales tax was not her first recommendation, however, adding that she recommended using graduated revenues from land transfer taxes, taxing high-end properties sold for more than $1 million. .
“These are the types of questions the committee will continue to explore,” she said. “Now that we…have this first initiative in place, we will also be looking to expand with new revenue streams and new initiatives.”
Cohen asked speakers to respond to critics who argue that reparations should not be restricted.
Rue Simmons said Evanston is a municipality and many things, including direct taxation for repairs, fall outside their jurisdiction.
She said the city has legal experts who helped define the legal criteria for a program.
Although she wants to give every black Evanstonian a million dollars, she said the city must act within its jurisdiction and ability, and in direct correlation to the damage that has taken place.
“The reason our city has been able to move beyond rhetoric and aspiration and recognition is because we have a tightly tailored remedy that directly correlates to harm,” she said. “I believe that over time we will uncover other specific harms.”
Speaking of criticism, Biss pointed out that the biggest critics of Evanston’s reparations don’t disagree with the idea on a fundamental level. He said they supported the idea, but felt the city’s approach was not working properly.
“We listen to all these points of view. We integrate them,” Biss said. “We have so far made a commitment of $10 million for repairs and Evanston. And so there remains 96% to allocate.
“So when people come in and say, ‘We should do some repairs, but not like this, do it like this’, that’s just very helpful constructive information that we can use to figure out how to deploy… the 96% following the initial $10 million,” Biss said.
Cohen shared scriptures on reparations, pointing out that the story of Exodus is a prototypical story of reparations.
“When our ancestors came out of Egypt, they didn’t come out empty-handed,” he said.