A Reparations Legal Victory

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Attorney Bruce Afran: “This is the first time that a reparations case has had a victory, and it will be the beginning of others. Just like the tobacco cases began with losses and slowly began gaining wind, the reparations movement will now gather steam in the courts and gain victories.�

 

Chalk a big one up for the reparations movement.

On December 13th, the US Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld fraud claims brought by African Americans against 15 major US banks, insurers, and transportation companies that concealed their slave trading histories from consumers – knowing all the while that their customers would want this information.

In his 17-page opinion, Judge Richard Posner said that a seller of goods who hides his company's slave trading history because he's afraid of losing customers is "guilty of fraud."

“We applaud this historic reparations victory that has taken over 141 years to achieve,” stated Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, the lead plaintiff in the case and Executive Director of the Restitution Study Group. “We want the world to understand that this is not just about the institution of slavery,” she continued, speaking at a press conference in front of the US Court House at 500 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan on the morning following the decision. “This is about people such as James Moody, an enslaved African who was forced to work in toxic coal pits, insured by New York Life Insurance Company – people who were never paid for their labor which helped make the defendants in these cases multi-billion and trillion dollar entities.

“This is my pledge to Aetna, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and all the other defendants in this case,” Farmer-Paellmann concluded. “You and your shareholders will never be free from the demand for reparations until you pay the debt.”

“This is a very significant case,” added Bruce Afran, an attorney who represented Deadria Farmer-Paellmann. “This is the first time that a reparations case has had a victory, and it will be the beginning of others. Just like the tobacco cases began with losses and slowly began gaining wind, the reparations movement will now gather steam in the courts and gain victories.”      

Attorney Roger Wareham, who represented several other plaintiffs in the case, explained that this decision means that they can now return to the District Court to address the defendants’ violations of state consumer fraud statutes. Punitive damages for such corporate fraud nationwide could easily run into billions. The plaintiffs also retain the option of going to state courts to pursue claims for the disgorgement of profits.

Wareham also noted that this ruling demonstrates the importance that the mass movement for reparations in the street plays in the judicial arena. “It was the Black community’s active demand for reparations and accountability for slavery that led to the passage of corporate disclosure legislation around the country,” he declared. “These disclosures of hitherto concealed dirty secrets of their corporate past will establish defendants’ liability in these cases.”

Wareham said, too, that they hope that yesterday's decision will spur the New York City Council to catch up with California, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other towns and cities around the country and finally pass the corporate disclosure and reparations legislation which has shamefully sat in committee for over four years now.

Wareham concluded by pointing out that this nation was built on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the free labor of enslaved Africans. “Racism was the ideological foundation used to justify this crime against humanity,” he stated. “Racism, as the execution of Sean Bell proves once again, continues today. The justified anger and resistance by the descendents of enslaved Africans – the victims of racism today – will not go away without there being redress for those past wrongs. We as lawyers will continue to fight in the courts. We know that people will keep fighting in the streets. We are confident that we will win.”

Other claims that sought recovery of past profits made from slave trading were dismissed in Judge Posner’s ruling because of the lack of federal jurisdiction; however, such claims are still permitted to go forward in the state courts.
      
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