Congress to examine slavery reparations bill after trial scheme near Chicago

Advocates of reparations payments for descendents of slaves say the move could help adress a legacy of structural racism

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 05: White tulips bloom across Constitution Avenue from the place where a U.S. Capitol Police officer was killed last week on April 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. Officer William "Billy" Evans was killed when he and another officer were struck by a vehicle at the security perimeter on April 2. The vehicle's driver, identified as 25-year-old Noah Green, was shot and killed by police after he crashed the car and lunged at officers with a knife.   Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP
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US lawmakers will consider a bill to study paying reparations to descendants of enslaved people on Wednesday, which could open the door for a potential vote on an issue that has gained momentum in recent years.

On April 14 the House Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever markup – the process by which committees debate and amend legislation – on a bill that creates a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for Black people.

Friday's announcement comes during the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing Black man George Floyd, whose death triggered nationwide protests highlighting the country's racial injustice.

The bill was first introduced more than 30 years ago but never advanced.

It addresses the period of slavery and discrimination in the United States from 1619 to the present day, and will propose remedies including financial reparations.

"The historic markup of HR 40 is intended to continue a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement on Friday.

Americans still live with racial disparities in access to education, health care, housing, employment and other social provisions attributable to the damaging legacy of slavery and government-sponsored racial discrimination, he added.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly addressed the need to end systemic racism, and the White House has expressed support for the commission.

Its intent is not to divide, lawmakers said, but to continue efforts already begun in some states and cities during recent years of racial reckoning.

House Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, the bill's sponsor, said that by passing HR 40, Congress could "start a movement toward the national reckoning we need to bridge racial divides."

Last month, local lawmakers in Evanston, a small city outside Chicago, voted to give funds to Black residents as a form of reparations for housing discrimination, thereby becoming the first city in America to take such action.

Under the plan, residents who qualify will receive $25,000 to use towards home improvements or mortgage assistance.

The move has been closely followed in the United States, and could become a model for elsewhere in the country as racial injustice has risen up the political and public agenda.

The American Civil Liberties Union hailed Friday's announcement, saying the markup "shows that our elected officials are finally listening to the will of the millions who demand that we begin to repair the communities most harmed by racism and oppression."