Why JPMorgan Chase Should Give $1 Billion to Black Neighborhoods in Chicago

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Activist Ja’Mal Green at a July 2016 rally in Chicago, Il. (Max Herman / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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In June, an investigation by two Chicago newsrooms, City Bureau and WBEZ, analyzed more than 168,000 bank loans between 2012 and 2018. The team found that for every $1 banks loaned in Chicago’s white neighborhoods, they invested just 12 cents in the city’s Black neighborhoods. These findings reflect a grim truth that many researchers on urban affairs have long observed: Housing discrimination may be illegal, but residential segregation and de facto redlining have remained the norm.
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The bank with the worst record in Chicago is also the nation’s largest, JPMorgan Chase. For every dollar it loaned in white neighborhoods between 2012 and 2018, the bank invested only 2.4 cents in the city’s Black communities. In response to these findings, Chicago residents have shut down bank branches across the city, and have called on the company to pay reparations.

Ja’Mal Green, a community activist and 2018 mayoral candidate, has been mobilizing community members and reaching hundreds of thousands through videos of protests and actions. His demands for change dovetail with a larger movement to hold banks accountable for their history of racist lending and profiteering from slavery (JPMorgan’s predecessor, Citizens Bank of Louisiana, secured its early mortgages through the purchase of thousands of slaves).

The rate of Black homeownership has barely budged since the Fair Housing Act prohibited racial discrimination in 1968, and today the average Black family has a net worth about one-10th that of the average white family, a gap larger than it was at the start of this century.

I spoke to Green about community organizing, why banks should pay reparations, and the possibilities for radical social change in this moment.

—Daniel Fernandez

Daniel Fernandez: You’ve called on Chase to give Chicago’s Black neighborhoods $1 billion in grants and $10 billion in loans, which will be used for home buyer assistance, small-business start-ups, and, eventually, the creation of a Black-owned bank. How did you settle on these demands?

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Ja’Mal Green: We started by looking at the numbers—and what the numbers could have been. What WBEZ showed was that if Chase had been lending just at what the rest of the market was lending, which was like 8 percent, then our communities would have gotten $89 million each year since 2012. And if Chase was doing in our neighborhoods what they had been doing in a white neighborhood like Lincoln Park, then we would have gotten hundreds of millions of dollars every year since 2012.

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