LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Lawmakers in Evanston, Ill., are going to be using the money from taxes on legalized marijuana to pay reparations to their black residents. It's aimed at solving two problems the community has faced. First, African Americans have been disproportionately arrested for infractions involving marijuana possession. And second, black residents are being priced out of their homes. The plan aims to help address both issues at once. Here to explain how is Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons, who led the effort to get the plan approved. She's on the line with us now from Evanston. Thanks for joining us.
ROBIN RUE SIMMONS: Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What sparked the idea to sort of do this?
RUE SIMMONS: Well, we know the history here in America. And it is not any different in our city of Evanston. We still have the impact of redlining in Jim Crow law and the black-lived experience in Evanston today. We have a large and unfortunate gap in wealth, opportunity, education, even life expectancy. The fact that we have a $46,000 gap between census tract 8092, which is the historically red-line neighborhood that I live in and was born in. And the average white household led me to pursue a very radical solution to a problem that we have not been able to solve - reparations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm sure I don't have to tell you that reparations has been very controversial.
RUE SIMMONS: It certainly is uncomfortable. When we have to deal with our nation's history and the history in our city, which includes oppression and discrimination, rape and kidnapping and other crimes against humanity, that's very uncomfortable. So there has been opposition, one, in even acknowledging those wrongs. And then I've had hate messages that include, we have reparations already in the form of a Link Card, Section 8 voucher and welfare. And so I disagree with that completely. And I think that anyone knows the history of welfare understands that it was not established for the black community.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you're going to take the money raised in taxes on marijuana - legal marijuana - and then you're going to use that to fund this. That's the plan.
RUE SIMMONS: Yeah. So in the state of Illinois - Illinois legislation was passed that on January 1, we will have our recreational cannabis legal here. And we are going to take 100% of the first $10 million of tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales tax to fund our reparation. We're expecting several hundred thousand dollars a year revenue at this point. And we should expect to fund that 10 million before 10 years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Will these funds be targeting long-term black residents or perhaps families that have specifically been affected by arrests or detentions?
RUE SIMMONS: Well, it's going to impact all black residents. We want to preserve our existing black residency, which helps us preserve our diversity. In addition, it will include bringing repair to families and returning citizens with a particular focus on those that have been impacted by marijuana arrests.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What percentage of marijuana-related arrests are of African Americans?
RUE SIMMONS: Data shows that in our city, 71% of marijuana arrests are in the black community. And the problem there is we are a now declining 16% of the community. At the height of the black community, we had around 24 or 25%. That was in the '90s. And there's been a steady decline since. It's been because of lack of affordability in housing, predatory lending, over-assessed Cook County property taxes in the community.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the idea is that, somehow, this money will be given to allow people to stay in their homes in the form of loans? Or...
RUE SIMMONS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. My intention is that this is a direct payment to residents that qualify. We do need to think beyond homeownership and whether it is some level to support capacity building through direct payments for fund - for technical training or other credentialing that could build capacity. But I do want every black resident to have some way that they can qualify for this reparation, regardless of their education, homeownership status or even their income levels.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons, thank you so much.
RUE SIMMONS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.