Burlington slavery reparations task force to begin work this fall

Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 3:40 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 8:57 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington's City Council this week unanimously passed a reparations resolution, making it one of the first cities in the country to formally explore how to make amends for slavery. The idea is to study how Vermont benefited from slavery and make apologies and amends as necessary.

While Vermont was not a slave state and was the first to abolish slavery back in 1777, those seeking reparations say non-slave states benefited from slavery.

“As Black labor was extracted through the institution of slavery in the south, wealth flowed into the hands of the northern elite,” said Rep. Brian Cina, P/D-Burlington, who has pushed for a reparations at the state level.

“This is an important question -- the question that needs to be answered if we’re going to move past this terrible part of our history. And we’re going into this with open eyes and ask the questions that need to be asked about whether the city of Burlington as a government has responsibility,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. He says he’s proud of the city for stepping up and being one of the first governments in the country to take this action.

A similar measure was passed in Asheville, North Carolina, allowing for reparations to be made. But in Burlington, the depth and quality of the reparations will be determined by studies and research, making it different than Asheville.

"It's very important to study it so that we can present evidence. Evidence based on how slavery has impacted the lives of Black Americans today, how slavery pretty much built the United States economy," said Tyeastia Green, the city's director of racial equity, inclusion and belonging.

Green. Other task force members will be appointed by different groups including the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.

“We need to make sure we have some people who know history, who can help us explore the historical record and uncover the truth. I think we also need some expertise on the task force of people who understand restorative practices,” said Rep. Cina.

But what the reparations should be and how they might be distributed has not been determined. It will depend largely on what the task force finds. "I actually think of reparations as more systemic, like looking at how to change the way we invest money in our health care system, in our education system, in our criminal justice system. How do we create incentives for Black people to have property and to accumulate wealth?" Cina said.

Green says while there's no limit on what reparations could look like, she believes they will be substantial. "I don't think it's appropriate to put a value on what it cost Black people in this country to be enslaved, what it cost them to lose heritage, to lose culture, what it cost them now to not be allowed in white spaces, still, now in 2020," Green said.

Work for this task force begins on October 1st. They will have a year to make recommendations to the city council. Meanwhile, supporters are looking to Vermont lawmakers to pass a statewide reparations bill.

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