A coalition of more than 60 organizations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement has released a comprehensive policy platform that signals a pivot away from focusing on racist policing, to a broader effort to highlight and address the structural inequalities that permeate black life in America.
The platform, released on Monday, calls for reparations, an end to the death penalty, and retroactive forgiveness of student loans. It also urges the federal government to officially acknowledge the devastating impact of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, as well as demanding an end to "the war on black people."
A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, & Justice was released by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) coalition just eight days before the second anniversary of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer. His death became a flashpoint for civil unrest and a catalyst for the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.
Karl Kumodzi, a member of the M4BL Policy Table's Leadership Team, said that after Brown was killed, some activists released a small set of demands. "Five or six broad visionary demands, and then local demands for Ferguson specifically" said Kumodzi. "That's where it all started."
Kumodzi said local grassroots organizations with specific policy demands started collaborating and, over the course of two years, they assembled a resource that is broken down into six areas and contains examples of model legislation and explicitly lays out the legislative targets of their proposals.
Until now, the Black Lives Matter movement has been closely associated with critiques of the criminal justice system — such as racial profiling, unlawful stops, use of force, the mandatory minimum sentences of the war on drugs, police shootings and non-indictments for officers involved.
Members of the movement are concerned their message is being misunderstood — particularly in the wake of shootings that targeted police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The unveiling of the new platform comes at a time when the relationship between the movement and police advocates is particularly fraught.
"There is a narrative that the Black Lives Matter movement is about protest and anger and and not much else," said Scott Roberts from ColorOfChange, who helped develop the platform. "I think from early on, the movement has been about the systemic issues facing black communities."
Roberts added that policing is just one piece of the same, larger problem. "I think it's a mistake to frame issues like economic justice, educational equity, voting rights, as being disconnected from the issue of police violence. Our view is that the real solution to most of the issues we're facing, including policing, is rooted in investment in our communities."
The new platform hammers home that Black Lives Matter is a movement that addresses the very real, historical and current structural injustices imposed upon black people in America.
It incorporates many of the ideas that were at the forefront of Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign for Democratic nomination — like restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to break up the large banks, restructuring the tax code and end redlining — and is categorical about its demand forreparations.
"The government, responsible corporations and other institutions that have profited off of the harm they have inflicted on Black people — from colonialism to slavery through food and housing redlining, mass incarceration, and surveillance — must repair the harm done," the agenda states.
The old idea of compensation for injustices has gained new momentum following Ta-Nehisi Coates' important essay for The Atlantic in June 2014, "The Case for Reparations."
"My case for reparations was not centered on long-dead enslaved black people, but actual living African Americans who'd been wronged, well within living memory," Coates wrote in a follow-up essay in which he addressed criticisms of his argument. "The wrong was massive and perpetrated in virtually every major city in the country."
The new policy platform outlines the five areas where the coalition is seeking reparations.
-Full and free access for black people to lifetime education to make up for lost opportunities as a result of income inequality and mass incarceration. That includes free access and open admissions to public community colleges, and and retroactive forgiveness of student debt.
-A guaranteed minimum living wage for black people.
-Reparations "for the wealth extracted from our communities," defined to include the legacy of slavery and housing discirmination, as well as "environmental racism" and "food apartheid."
-Reparations for the "cultural and educational exploitation, erasure, and extraction" of black communities through mandatory school curriculums that "critically examine the political, economic and social impacts of colonialism and slavery."
-The immediate passage of HR 40, "The Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans." Various version of the bill have died in Congress since the 1990's.
But litany of proposals and demands aside, Kumodzi, of M4BL, said the new policy platform primarily reflects the careful coordination and democracy of local activist groups over the course of two years
"We wanted it to be a hub of resources and tools for folks engaging in campaigns on the ground," he said. "It's powerful to see what folks are fighting for across the country all in one places — a comprehensive vision for black lives."
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen