Amherst town councilors to hear call for reparations committee

  • Past Amherst area residents Henry Jackson, center, Lt. Frazar Stearns, left, and Anna Reed Goodwin, right, are featured on the Amherst Community History Mural, as seen through the adjacent West Cemetery fence, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. AP FILE PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA

Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2021 1:20:41 PM

AMHERST — Groups that have been studying how to remedy racism toward Black residents, and researching racial injustice in Amherst over the town’s 212-year history, will call on the Town Council Monday to create a committee for providing reparations.

Michele Miller, co-founder of the Reparations for Amherst group, said Thursday that she and colleague Matthew Andrews, and representatives Barbara Love and Amilcar Shabazz from the Amherst African Heritage Residents for Reparations, will make their appeal.

“We are asking the Town Council to refer to committee to study and develop a proposal,” Miller said. “That’s our ask.”

The new committee, she said, will be essential to meeting the council’s 13-0 vote in December stating that Amherst “is committed to engaging in a path of remedy for Black Amherst residents who have been injured or harmed by discrimination and racial injustice.”

“This would formalize within the municipality the research work we’ve done to set the foundation,” Miller said.

A recent symposium presented information about discrepancies between Black and white residents in areas such as housing, education, health, transportation and upward mobility and noted incidents from the town’s history, such as one from the 1850s during a smallpox outbreak when residents tried to burn down a tenement house where Black residents were living.

Any recommendation for a specific repair would be decided by what Miller refers to as Black stakeholders.

“It’s imperative any decisions about repair come from a representative body of Black members of the community,” Miller said.

Reparations for Amherst has been inspired by the work of Robin Rue Simmons, an alderman in Evanston, Illinois, a city that has passed a reparations ordinance to make down payments on housing and encourage Black entrepreneurship through the use of $10 million collected in cannabis sales taxes.

The Amherst group will also request a “meaningful set aside” of money for racial justice and equity in the town budget and will encourage the Town Council to support more funding for the Community Response for Equity, Safety and Service, or CRESS program, as an alternative to the police department.

Miller said that the reparations process should have long-lasting benefits to Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, and the town as a whole.

“This is a moment where we have to show the BIPOC community that we really mean Black Lives Matter and target our commitment to racial equity and racial justice,” Miller said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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