10,000 signatures reached
To: US Congress
Justice Can't Wait - Reparations Now
My name is Tiffany Crutcher and four years ago Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby shot and killed my twin brother, Terence Crutcher, in our hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma known as 'Black Wall Street.' Police looking for a weapon instead found gospel CDs in his car. Like so many Black people killed by police – from 12-year-old Tamir Rice to 26-year-old Breonna Taylor – my 40-year-old brother didn’t get a fair chance to live.
My hometown of Tulsa has a long history of putting Black people in early graves. It’s been 99 years since a white mob led the Tulsa Race Massacre, decimating the affluent Black neighborhood of Greenwood, proudly known as Black Wall Street. When the smoke cleared, up to 300 Black people lay dead and millions in hard-wrought Black wealth was wiped out as if it had never existed. My great grandmother was lucky to narrowly escape the carnage, leaving her successful business and the only life she knew behind in the ashes.
No one was ever arrested for the slaughter of Black bodies. None of the Black people who built small businesses, bought homes, and raised families on Black Wall Street received a penny for their losses.
Tulsa officials kept the race massacre and the city’s ongoing cruelty hidden from the wider public for decades. But now that the world has discovered our existence – through HBO’s Watchmen, Human Rights Watch’s research, and the media’s headlines – we, the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race massacre and their descendants, have a message. It’s unacceptable, and outright inhumane, to continue asking Black people to wait for justice in Tulsa, Toledo, or anywhere else in America.
Justice can’t wait when Covid-19 is harming Black people in the US at three times the rate of white people, with disparities across all age groups and areas of the country.
Don’t ask us to wait when Black infants are more than twice as likely to die as white infants—making the disparity worse than it was in 1850, when Black people were enslaved.
Don’t ask us to wait when the gap between Black and white wealth is as large as it was in 1968.
Justice can’t wait for those of us who are constantly in the crosshairs of white supremacy. And it doesn’t have to. Right now there is a bill before the US House that does more to address our plight in Tulsa and the systemic racism across the country than any other piece of federal legislation on the docket. HR 40 would establish a commission to investigate the legacy of slavery and its ongoing harms as well as come up with proposals to Congress for reparations.
HR 40 recognizes that the destruction of Black Wall Street and the racial disparities that persist across the United States today stem from the enslavement of Black people. The systemic racism that held Black children hostage on plantations and tore them from their parents is the same systemic racism that ran my great grandmother out of Greenwood as her neighborhood burned. There is no way forward if the US government doesn’t do what it knows that it should: properly account and atone for the horrors of slavery that continue to haunt us.
There is unprecedented momentum behind HR 40 – in fact, it would easily pass if the House held a floor vote today. But here’s the problem: House members who support the bill won’t vote on it this year unless they hear from their constituents. They believe that if Black people waited this long, we won’t mind waiting some more.
They are wrong. And worse, they are sitting on a rare opportunity to help make America whole. Tell Congress to bring HR 40 to an immediate vote. They need to hear that justice for Black people can’t wait in Tulsa, or anywhere else.
Why is this important?
The United States has never fully reckoned with or accounted for the harms and cruelty of slavery. The country’s economy was built on the backs of the 400,000 Africans who were taken from their homeland and sold to slaveholders in the United States through the transatlantic slave trade. Following the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared enslaved people free, many US cities and states, including in the northern United States, implemented laws and policies that legalized racial segregation and stripped black people of their rights. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, nearly 6,500 black people were killed in racial terror lynchings between the end of Reconstruction in 1865 and 1950. Federal, state, and local policy decisions in the 20th and 21st centuries have further contributed to the structural racism; economic, education, and health inequalities; housing segregation; and discriminatory policing that still exist today.
The United States has never fully accounted for these wrongs. Instead, black people in the US continue to experience segregation, discrimination, inequality, and state violence on a regular basis. The mass protests stemming from pervasive racial inequality and unlawful killings of black people, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, reflect the US failure to provide redress for this long history of abuse.
In 1980, the US Congress established a commission to investigate the forced relocation and internment in camps of Japanese Americans and others during World War II, which paved the way for a formal reckoning with these serious human rights abuses, including financial compensation to surviving victims. HR 40 will follow this existing precedent.
Reparation is justice that is owed, and justice that is past due. It requires a proper acknowledgment of the wrongs that were committed and are still being committed as part of the continuing legacy of slavery. Policymakers who wish to respond to protesters by building a better, more just future need to also understand the past, and address the accumulated effects of historical and present harms. Otherwise, the United States risks continuing to carry slavery’s legacy forward, causing new harms indefinitely into the future.
1. "US: Provide reparation for 1921 'Tulsa Race Massacre'," Human Rights Watch, May 29, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/29/us-provide-reparations-1921-tulsa-race-massacre
2. Reparations Resource Center, https://ibw21.org/reparations-resource-center/
3. "US: Congress should pass reparations bill," Human Rights Watch, August 3, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/03/us-congress-should-pass-reparations-bill