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The city of St. Paul apologized for its role in institutional racism on Wednesday and agreed to form a new commission to study reparations for Black residents whose ancestors were enslaved.

The City Council voted 7-0 to form the St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission as a way to promote racial healing. The resolution creating the commission also apologizes for slavery at Fort Snelling and the destruction of St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood in the 1950s.

Council Member Jane Prince, the resolution's lead sponsor on the council, partnered with Trahern Crews, co-chairman of the Green Party of the United States who heads up its national reparations working group.

Crews, addressing the council before the vote, said slavery followed by more than a century of systemic racism has deprived Black Americans of the ability to acquire generational wealth.

"Whites still have 90% of the wealth and Blacks only have 2.6% of the wealth in America," said Crews, who also co-chairs a community reparations steering committee. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected people of color, and the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer only further illustrates the need for reparations, Crews said.

Independent journalist Georgia Fort, who co-chairs the community reparations steering committee, said Wednesday's council action is an important first step.

"Right now the world is watching our community," Fort told the council. "This is a great time for all of us to be on the right side of history."

St. Paul joins a small group of cities across the country including Asheville, N.C., and Evanston, Ill., that have launched reparations commissions. In an earlier interview, Crews said the commission would interpret reparations broadly, considering everything from cash payments to individuals and small businesses and mortgage assistance to establishing health clinics and community centers in Black neighborhoods.

St. Paul, which has a population of 308,000, is about 16% Black, according to U.S. Census data for 2019, the most recent year for which data are available.

Council Member Dai Thao said he was honored to support the new reparations commission. Thao, who immigrated to the United States as a child refugee, said he was told America was "paradise," but quickly saw the racial disparities that left African Americans, Native Americans and others living in poverty.

He said forming the reparations commission is "the right thing to do."

"When it's the right thing to do, it's the easy thing to do," Thao said.

Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037