Nearly two months after the death of Tyre Nichols following a traffic stop by Memphis police, local officials are determining how to best help the Black community there moving forward. On Wednesday (Feb. 22), the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted to study reparations for descendants of enslaved people, joining several other city, county, and state governments across the U.S. that are either considering or have launched similar programs.
The resolution was overwhelmingly approved with all eight Black members of the 13-person committee urging its passing. Shelby County will allocate $5 million to research and find “actionable items” addressing five key areas of concern: increased access to affordable housing and homeownership, health care parity, criminal justice reform, enhanced career opportunities, and financial literacy and generational wealth. It’s the largest county in the state, and one of only two counties in Tennessee with a majority Black population.
Tyre Nichols’ name was invoked by commissioners throughout the lengthy meeting on Wednesday. The beating of the 29-year-old on Jan. 7 and his death from injuries three days later served as a reminder of the racism and inequities Black people continue to face in Memphis and beyond.
This recent action represents a small first step in deciding what needs to be done in the future. “Five million dollars won’t right the wrongs of the past,” Commissioner Miska Clay Bibbs said, according to NBC News. “My people are dying on the daily. That’s why I support this.”
“The practices of our government are disenfranchising a certain subgroup of our population, which happens to be a majority here,” Commissioner Britney Thornton pointed out, per ABC24. “I just think that when you see phenomena like this that should not make sense, that show a clear imbalance, that we should do our due diligence to right those wrongs.”
In 2020, California became the first state in the nation to establish a law paving the way for descendants of enslaved people to receive reparation payments. Other municipalities that have taken up reparations studies include Evanston, Illinois; Asheville, North Carolina; and St. Paul, Minnesota.