PBS NewsHour | What to know about a lawsuit against reparations in Illinois | Season 2024

Wednesday is Juneteenth, the federal holiday celebrating the Emancipation of Enslaved people in America this year.

It comes amid renewed debate about reparations for the descendants of people who were enslaved and of the victims of Jim Crow laws well into the 20th century In 2021, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, became the first US city to offer reparations to black Americans for past housing discrimination.

Now a conservative legal group is challenging the program in court.

Saying it unconstitutionally discriminates against residents who aren’t black Brandis Freedman anchors Chicago tonight on PBS member station W TT W in Chicago.

Brandis give us a little sense of the background of this program who qualifies for it and how much money has been paid out.

Hey, John, So, uh, this you know, came about sometime after 2020.

Of course, I think a lot of folks.

A lot of cities were starting to talk about reparations in a way that they hadn’t in the past.

And so Evanston’s measure, it requires that Who is 18 or older and was a resident of the city of Evanston, between 1919 and 1969.

Or is a descendant of a resident between that same time period.

Um, is eligible to receive the benefit right?

And so the benefits are $25,000 initially $25,000 to go towards housing.

So the first part of the $20 million that the city has pledged is a housing initiative where folks who fit the bill can either make a down payment on a new house.

Or they can, uh, prepares Upgrades to their homes or use that fund or use those funds to pay back.

Uh, if they owe penalties to the city at this point, I think initially some of that roll out was a little bit slow, but I think, um, I approximately 3 million or so has been paid out thus far.

Um, last year, the city also added on to that where, um, the same group of people who meet the requirements, uh, could receive a $25,000 direct cash payment.

Is there much public support for this?

In Evanston?

There is Uh, quite a bit.

You know, Initially, when this was passed, Not everyone was supportive.


There were some folks who argued that this is not a reparations package that this is, um you know, a package for the mortgage lenders and for the banks, um, and for the city that you know the folks who would actually be receiving those $25,000 And then later on, there was the $25,000 cash payment option.

That was added You don’t hear a lot of opposition in the area.

I think a lot of folks are still kind of waiting to see as that money gets passed out, you know, as it gets distributed to those who Eligible, um, to see the benefit and and how it’s helped them for those who don’t know Evanston describe it for us politically demographically.

Sure, um, so Evanston sits just north of the city of Chicago on what is called the North Shore.

It’s at the bottom edge of the North shore.

Just outside the city.

Some folks call it urban light.

Um, because it’s still you know, a thriving uh, suburb.

Northwestern University is in Evanston.

A politically It’s pretty blue, as is, You know, a lot of Chicago.

Uh, Chicago specific, You know, as you get or Chicago proper, I should say.

Once you get farther and farther out, um the you know it it the the politics start to change color A good bit.

The conservative legal group Judicial Watch is bringing this suit.

What’s their argument, though their argument is, I mean, I I’ve read Reverse racism.

Their main argument is that because the 14th amendment that this that the reparations package is a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, because the city of Evanston uses race as a proxy as a determining factor of whether or not someone experienced racism, I, I think you know, some critics of that argument would say the city of Evanston has admitted to its role in racism between the years of 1919 and 1969, as have many cities, whether out loud or not to The Covenant, the restrictive covenants that prevented black people from living in certain neighborhoods.

The redlining that we all know the federal government and the you know, mortgage lenders at the time all participated in that prevented that so that’s that’s their main argument.

The other part is that you know, they believe that the federal government doesn’t have really a compelling interest in making, um, making integration happen.

Um and, uh, the plaintiffs argue that you know that they too should receive.

Um, the $25,000 payment.

Um, and so I think they are asking for an injunction.

Against this legislation.

Is there any sense that the plaintiffs were emboldened by the Supreme Court’s rejection of race?

Aware college admissions, the attorney that I’ve spoken with Christine Svenson?

She’s locally based, but she does work with, uh, a judicial watch.

Yes, that I think that is part of their argument.

They believe that the Supreme Court has said that race can’t be a factor in determining these kinds of things.

And so, yes, they are certainly, uh, leaning on the Supreme Court’s argument, and what’s the city said about the suit.

They’ve been kind of quiet and not responding to Suit itself, which isn’t a huge surprise.

A lot of times when Sudi cities face legal suits like this, they’re prevented from speaking about the suit itself.

But they have said that they defend their legislation and that they are proud to the then you know, the first city in the country to pass a reparations package.

Um, and the failed to defend it for setting the country to pass a reparations.

But also, uh is this gonna be closely watched this challenge?


It is going to be closely watched because, as you mentioned John, there are other cities even the state of California is considering and looking at how they might be.

Able to implement their own reparations package.

And so I think some folks are keeping an eye on this one just to see what how far this case goes.

And what is decided, Um, and how it might impact others.

Brandis Friedman of Wttw in Chicago.

Thanks very much.

Thank you.

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