The next battle for Black Lives Matter: Economic justice

Wealth: America's other racial divide
Wealth: America's other racial divide

Black Lives Matter activists are expanding their call for justice to a new target: the economy.

In a detailed proposal released Monday, a consortium of more than 50 civil rights groups laid out an ambitious plan to improve the financial lives of black Americans with a heavy emphasis on reparations, investing in black communities and economic justice.

"The issues dealing with race and racism and racial inequality in the United States are intimately connected to the issues of wealth inequality," said Patrick Mason, an economist who contributed to the report and the chair of the board of directors at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.

Mason worked on a section in the proposal that calls for a restructuring of the tax code, which he says is responsible for much of today's wealth inequality.

Many tax programs, including the estate tax and capital gains tax, favor wealthier Americans, he said.

The report calls for increases on both of those taxes. It also seeks to put an end to income caps on payroll taxes that fund Social Security and unemployment and to raise corporate taxes, among other measures.

Related: Blacks still far behind whites in wealth and income

That additional tax revenue could be used to fund federal and state job programs. Creating new jobs is necessary to help close the staggering racial wealth gap in America, Morgan said. (White families have a median wealth that is 13 times that of black and Latino families, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.)

"Homeownership is linked to jobs, crime is linked to jobs, the ability for individuals to marry and for those marriages not to fall apart is also linked to these jobs," he said.

Momentum around economic justice has been growing since the high-profile killings of unarmed black men at the hands of police, many who were low income or had committed minor infractions like selling loose cigarettes in the case of Eric Garner of New York or selling used CDs like Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Justice Department found that local police officers had excessively stopped and ticketed black residents often charging them multiple times in a single stop.

While media coverage around Black Lives Matter has often focused on the protests or killings of black men and women, those issues are inextricably linked to the economy, said Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, the director of the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

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Recently, a campaign championed by Solange Knowles and the hip-hop artist Killer Mike encouraging blacks to invest their money in black-owned banks gained traction on social media. In an emotional interview with Hot 107.9 in Atlanta Mike said, "What we're going to do is to divert money away from the system. This works."

Part of the proposal released Monday called for federal money that is typically earmarked for policing and prisons to be reinvested in education, employment and other services in predominantly black communities. The report also calls for an end to money bail, the fees and fines associated with incarceration and an end to assessing an applicant's criminal history when getting housing, loans or jobs.

The activists also called for reparations to be paid to black Americans for the wealth lost as a result of slavery, racism and other forms of institutional discrimination.

Asante-Muhammad said the Black Lives Matter report was "a mix of historic proposals of what we can loosely call the Black freedom movement," like the 1963 March on Washington and the Black Panthers setting up breakfast programs.

Related: Is Black Lives Matter blowing it?

Richard Wallace an organizer for the Worker's Center for Racial Justice in Chicago, one of the groups behind the report, said that while economics was important it cannot be disconnected from the rest of the plan which includes increasing political power and ending capital punishment and mass incarceration of blacks. "What good is economic justice if they are still killing us? "Wallace said.

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