Restorative justice program proposed by Mecklenburg County commissioner

charlotte — Mecklenburg County Commissioner Mark Jerrell is proposing a bold and ambitious restorative justice trust fund initiative, citing deeply rooted racism in systems and policies that have disproportionately impacted African Americans.

The proposal follows several communities across the United States passing reparations. The target population for Jerrell’s proposal is residents of Mecklenburg County, primarily African American, working families, single parents and young adults.

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“It is an overt attempt to actually overcorrect in areas where we certainly need to overcorrect,” he said.

Jerrell’s proposal includes five pillars: education, entrepreneurship, workforce development, homeownership and health care.

“The adverse impact of systemic racism is visible in every aspect of our community and reflected in data related to education, jobs, housing, healthcare, environment and overall opportunity,” the framework of the proposal states. “As this gap continues to increase, it is an imminent threat to the future of Mecklenburg County.”

Direct cash payments or checks are not being proposed.

Proposals include tuition-free community college; small-business grants; a workforce development program focusing on health care with a guaranteed job upon completion with the health department, Atrium Health, Novant Health or Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; down payment assistance; and greater access to health care through mental health support, healthy food options and quality care for the underinsured.

“We have to make additional investments to level the playing field,” he said. “What I am not asking for is cash payments to anyone or a check written. But I do have a case for investments.”

No cost has been disclosed and talks will likely continue through the budget process. Jerrell’s proposal received support from several county commissioners, including Vilma Leake and Pat Cotham.

County attorney Tyrone Wade cautioned leaders need to be careful about implementation to avoid violating the state constitution.

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“You cannot take public dollars and designate it for an individual or any one particular group of individuals or class unless it is for the public at large in some way,” Wade said.

Dunlap said he would like to avoid a fight with the General Assembly.

“I think many of these things we are already addressing,” Dunlap said.

In a presentation to county commissioners Thursday, the county outlined investments made in equity since FY2020.

Investments since FY 2020:

  • $3.25M to establish Small Business Revolving Loan Fund
  • $3M to address food insecurity
  • $2M to reduce racial disparities in health care
  • $2M for park investments in underserved communities
  • 400K for census outreach in traditionally undercounted communities
  • $250K MWSBE program assessment
  • $580K in Community Service Grant programs aligned to reducing racial disparities

In July 2020, the city of Asheville passed a resolution supporting community reparations for Black people in Asheville. No measures have been identified yet by Asheville, and no funding has been allocated to date. According to Mecklenburg County, Asheville leaders anticipate dedicating $1 million to the program in FY2022. Similar to Jerrell’s proposal, no cash payments are planned. Asheville’s reparations focus on investments in housing, business ownership, career opportunities, education, employment and safety.

Statement for Commissioner Mark Jerell:

“I think it is time for us to institute a system of re-dress for the generational injustices endured by African Americans. Many of our major institutions and corporations have profited from systemic racism and have been complicit in reinforcing the institutional structures that create barriers to opportunity for far too many African Americans.”