Future Tense

“How to Pay Reparations: a Documentary”

In this new short story, a city tries to use an algorithm to pay reparations.

A coin breaks a chain that's seen stretched over paint strokes symbolizing a U.S. flag, which is turn seen over a photo of a Black family.
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photo by the U.S. National Archives.

This story and essay, and the accompanying art, are presented by AI Policy Futures, which investigates science fiction narratives for policy insights about artificial intelligence. On Wednesday, Oct. 14, at noon Eastern, Tochi Onyebuchi will join Holli Mintzer, author of “Legal Salvage,” and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, author of “The State Machine,” to discuss sci-fi, artificial intelligence, bias and justice. To RSVP for the hourlong online discussion, visit the New America website.

Each month, Future Tense Fiction—a series of short stories from Future Tense and Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination about how technology and science will change our lives—publishes a story on a theme. The theme for July–September 2020: justice.

A City Hall office, all wood paneling.

Robert (Bobby) Caine, age 52, mayor of ——:

He left us a mess. Frank and his reparations bill, he left us a mess, that’s what he did. I’ma have to be mayor a hundred more years to balance this budget. At least. [Laughing.] Imagine that. A white mayor. Spearheading a citywide reparations scheme? And you really can’t call it anything other than that. Because that’s what it is. Don’t get me wrong, as a Black man, I’m all for gettin’ paid for what I been through. But if that stack is just a steppin’ stone for some white boy on his way to the Governor’s Mansion? I’m good. I hope he’s doing well for himself. He must not have liked this job all that much if he was willin’ to throw it away so fast.

Sunlight cuts through the blinds of a tiny office. Bookshelves bend under the weight of monographs. More books cover the floor around a desk. Behind the desk sits a man with his glasses hanging around his neck, his mask pulled down. He wears a tweed jacket and periodically removes a handkerchief from his breast pocket to dab at his forehead.

Professor Mark Higgins, age 73, assistant professor at —— State University, former member of REPAIR Project Team:

It’s impossible. It’s actually impossible to pay reparations. You can look to other models across time and place—the recompense offered to slave owners, for instance, for their having been made bereft of their chattel; what Haiti has been forced to pay France for the temerity of having won its independence, etc.—but there’s no real analogue for reparations paid to the truly injured parties for the totality of slavery. Some people like to point to what Germany did after the Holocaust, but the injury being addressed was the extermination of a people. The “orbit of hurt”—which sounds like a callous way of putting it, granted—is somewhat fixed in that example. Let’s break down how exactly that plan, which looked so perfect and discrete on paper, truly unfolded.

You have the Luxembourg Agreement of 1952 and the Additional Federal Compensation Act of 1953. What did the Germans do? They paid the state of Israel for the cost of resettlement. Half a million Jewish refugees. That’s what they paid for. On top of that, however, was the requirement that the moneys be used only to purchase goods produced within Germany. It’s not until you get to the Federal Compensation Act of 1956 that moneys are being offered to German Jews who had suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime and their surviving dependents. There was a claim deadline of 1969. More groups became eligible in the interim with different pay schedules, but imagine the hundreds of lawyers and functionaries representing clients with divergent interests all vying for a piece of a finite pie trapped in red tape. By the time money gets to you, there’s a nonzero possibility you’re already dead.

Now, a governmental authority could recompense people for lost property. Or, and this is something people latched onto later on, they could compensate victims for their slave labor. A few years ago, the Claims Conference and the German government announced that they would pay an amount to each of the survivors of Kindertransport. Guess what they were paid. Well, the ones who hadn’t died by then. Guess. Two thousand and five hundred euros.

I wrote this and much more in a report I submitted to the team behind the REPAIR Project, and I’m sure they listened, because they decided to add something more structural to that asinine personal compensation model. But they let me go ultimately.

A burger restaurant. Former City Councilman Richard Perkins (age 42) and corporate lawyer Tommy DiSanto (53) sit on the patio, a plate of fries in front of each of them. Their black face masks hang from one ear as they eat. DiSanto was an inaugural member of the REPAIR Project Team. Perkins was the teams founder and leader.

DiSanto: How did it start? I joined after I heard about it, right? Or did you reach out to me—

Perkins: I think we reached out to you. Well, I reached out to you. Nobody was supposed to know about this at first. I don’t think anyone was supposed to know about it, period. But, see, Tommy and I went to law school together and—

DiSanto: And while Richie turned into a hotshot city politician on his way to the Governor’s Mansion—hell, probably the White House with that jawline of yours—I was out here defending Halliburton. But, shit, this was easy pro bono for me.

Perkins: Except, you couldn’t tell anyone at the office why you had to take a sabbatical to do it.

DiSanto: Because it was [air quotes] top-secret. But, yeah, I got brought in because whatever was being worked on needed to be founded on solid legal footing. Now, granted, I hadn’t taken a peek at the Constitution since 1L, so I wasn’t nearly the most qualified on that count, but Richie and I go back. What was it, that mixer they had all the students of color go to that one summer?

Perkins: Yeah, the POC mixer. What were you even doing there? Your parents are from fucking Argentina.

DiSanto [laughing]: Anyway, all I know when I say yes is that there’s some social justice thing going on and there are scientists involved or whatever. Now, get this. I tell him, I tell Richie: “I hate fucking math. Don’t make me do math.” And he tells me, “Don’t worry, I won’t make you do any math.” [Pause] I did so much fucking math.

They both burst out into laughter. But they turn away from each other to keep from spreading droplets.

Open on a darkened room. Cloaked in shadows. Against the far wall, the silhouette of a potted plant. The leaves are moving. There is an overhead fan at work. A dark shape sits in an armchair.

Redacted, age 28, data scientist, member of REPAIR Project Team:

I mean, it’s kind of simplistic to call it the Reparations Algorithm, which is what everyone called it after the story blew up—because, of course. If you had an A.I. built to detect which moles on a body were evidence of malignant cancer cells, you wouldn’t call that the Cancer Algorithm, would you? OK, maybe you would. Bad example. But people think it’s just like you have this static E=mc2-type equation and you throw as much information at it as possible so that it, like, learns or whatever, then it spits out some intelligent decision. So they hear about the Reparations Algorithm and they immediately think, oh of course, a formula for figuring out reparations! Then they ask, well, what did you feed the formula? And then they expect you to say something like “racism. We fed the formula 400-plus years of racism.” Like it’s that simple. There’s nothing simple about racism.

Voice of Wendy Guan, age 27, statistician, member of REPAIR Project Team:

I don’t know if I joined the Project at a late stage or early on, but I do know that our viability was tied directly to the release of funds resulting from the abolition of the city police department. During my interview, they were very vague about what exactly I would be doing, and they kept emphasizing the project’s interdisciplinary nature. I think if they’d been a bit more forthcoming, I might’ve been too excited to be coherent. There was a real sea change happening throughout the country. Every industry, every locale, was experiencing a reckoning. I even saw in my own community the new ways in which anti-Blackness was being discussed and reckoned with. So to have the chance to be on the forefront of this new effort, this pilot project, and hopefully provide an example of what truly restorative justice looks like, I mean, who majors in statistics and expects to wind up there? Should we have expected what happened after? Maybe. But you have to understand the moment. It felt unprecedented. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t take any of it back.

On a porch of a two-story house in the —— suburb, northwest of ——, there are two rocking chairs that allow their occupants to look out over a recently manicured lawn. Flanking the porch are plots of recently turned dirt and the beginnings of a garden.

Billy [last name withheld], 52, nurse:

Where’d that money come from? Came from us cops. That’s where it came from. They abolished the fucking police department, fired everybody. No job assistance, no more pension, nothing. The whole fucking thing was drained dry. And our union. Strength in numbers, right? It’s all bullshit. Once the protests started, it was open season on us. Get this, you know those robot dogs that company out of Boston was making? You remember those, right? Well, they were gonna start mass-producing them to replace us. Fake dogs. Union didn’t have any pull because those tech wizards were already angling for our jobs on the cheap and we lost all our bargaining power. And the way the defunding was set up, it was reverse seniority, so the younger, more diverse force got clipped first. Then when it was all us white devils left, we were easy pickings, far as the court of public opinion was concerned. I’m just over 50. Spent my life on the force. What the hell am I gonna do with the time I got left? Far as work, things had dried up, but with the virus, folks in hospitals were droppin’ like flies. So I decided that was where I could help. Had to go to nursing school and everything. Paid out the ass to sit in a classroom with fuckin’ kids my daughter’s age. [Laughs.] But I did it. Got my degree, got my license. Now, I push a cart in a hospital. Social justice, right? I hope it’s fuckin’ bedlam over there without us.

On the corner of Willow and Main Street stand a group of anti-violence activists handing out cards listing candidates for an upcoming municipal election. On the back of each is a Know Your Rights checklist. Down Willow, grill smoke billows out from behind a church while older residents eat fried fish by the front entrance. Shaneika Thomas wears a mask with a clear mouth panel to enable the hard of hearing to lip-read.

Shaneika Thomas, age 27, crisis management systems worker:

This corner, right here? We used to practically sit on top of cops basically. Plainclothes cops would yoke up some kids here or across the street, and folks would get it on video. It would go viral, and we’d get on the cop’s ass. But then he’d be back out as a white-shirt, terrorizing folks. You walk around this community and you have credibility just from having been here for long enough and from people seeing your face, so you can walk up to a group of dudes and be like, hey, “if you’re out here, and he’s out here”—meaning the cop—“call this number.”

Two mechanical, jet-black greyhounds with backward-jointed legs prance down the middle of the street. At each stop, they gather the nearest residents and eject thermometers that the residents use to take their temperatures. Some of the residents glance at their results. Another shakes the thermometer as if its broken before trying again. Afterward, they all deposit the thermometers, coated in their saliva and DNA, into an attached pouch and drop the contained thermometer into an opening on the greyhounds backs.

When the REPAIR Act went into effect, we got an infusion of cash because of where we were headquartered. But we weren’t ready for that. We weren’t nearly ready for that. All of a sudden, money was showing up, and people just figured it was City Hall redistributing what got freed up when they abolished the police department. At some point, I started doing the math and I realized, as big as the PD’s budget was, this was more money than that. But we didn’t have too much time to think on where exactly this money came from. We just knew that we got lucky and we had work to do.

Of course, it didn’t last, but I’m pretty proud of what we were able to do with what we had. I just wish some of that money went toward painting those dogs a different fucking color.

Inside a Dunkin Donuts on the corner of Arcade Street and Pine Street. Just outside the entrance is a waste bin and, above it, a one-time-use mask dispenser. At the top of the door frame is a scanner, taking note of the biorhythms and temperature of each entering and exiting customer.

Denaun Smith, age 63, resident of ——:

Hell, I couldn’t believe it. At first, we didn’t know what the fuck was going on. But suddenly, they announce that [Redacted] High’s getting what?! Millions of dollars just pouring in. Where did that money come from? How can I get a piece of it?

Lyle Brown, age 32, history teacher at [Redacted] High:

It wasn’t millions. But it was … a lot. Imagine my surprise when the principal calls me into his office and tells me how much money we’ve been given. And my immediate thought is, “OK, I can finally afford to get enough pencils and pens and notebooks for my students!” To be honest, I was just glad I could make sure the hand sanitizer dispensers in the hallways stopped running out.

Smith: You could see it in the kids, though. That’s true. It wasn’t like they was walkin’ around with Jordans or anything or like they was flashin’ money around and whatnot. Matter of fact, I started seeing them less. Turns out they was spendin’ more of they time at school.

Brown: A visual arts program, a theater program. Hell, we pooled with another school and built an actual theater! Kids were using actual hand-held cameras to turn what would’ve been TikToks into Oscar-eligible short films.

Smith: Those damn TikToks. If I’m keepin’ it real witchu, I miss those kids. I mean, good for them stayin’ out of trouble, but the neighborhood done changed when you ain’t see them around. It’s summer and ain’t no 13-year-olds chillin’ on they front stoop in the Fayetteville housing projects in quadruple-XL white tees and baggy jeans with they coco-mango-cherries and do-rags. A place loses its character when it ain’t got that anymore.

Voice of Wendy Guan: One of the first things I was told upon joining the project was that we were to focus as much as possible on tangibles. Essentially, we would look at discernible racial disparities—in housing, in education outcomes, in the number and location of grocery stories—and work backward. Our goal was to find a number. What number did we need to generate that would render all material things equal? Focusing on the racial wealth gap seemed like the most concrete way of going about things, and we operated on the assumption that housing was the most appropriate vector of analysis. So, our “number” would essentially be coded to a dollar amount. The data was relatively easy to come by. Much of it was public already. The tax assessor’s office had home values, and then we could bucket them by ZIP code. But very quickly, we noticed something strange.

Redacted: The tax assessor’s office had been overvaluing homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods and undervaluing homes in predominantly white neighborhoods. And the reason they were doing this was to fund police brutality settlements. How do they get their money? Raise the property tax. The city was literally making poor people pay for every time a cop shot a Black kid.

Perkins: Your average American city doesn’t have the budget to pay $150 million or so in yearly settlements for officer misconduct. Yet another reason police are so expensive. What ends up happening is that the city issues a bond to a bank. Bank charges handling fees and interest that the city’s on the hook for. But in return, the city now has the cash on hand to pay the victims and/or their families for the officer’s misconduct. And the more money in the city budget that goes to that, the less there is for handling lead poisoning or funding schools.

In Stanley Quarter Park, children climb over a jungle gym while wearing surgical gloves and giggling behind single-use face masks.

Dr. Athena Davis, age 74, abolitionist and professor emeritus at —— University, member of REPAIR Project Team:

Chicago is illustrative, and I think a more appropriate analogue than Professor Higgins’ Holocaust example. Between 1972 and 1991, some 125 Black Chicagoans—at least, that is the number of cases that are known—were tortured by police officers in a building on Chicago’s South Side. Beaten, electrocuted, sodomized. Chained to boiling radiators. And they were tortured into confessing to crimes that led to prison sentences, sometimes to death row. Discrete instances of a harm. A bracketed period of time. A reparations bill eventually did make its way through the Legislature. It was revolutionary for a number of reasons, not just because it included an actual reparations fund. The amount was $5.5 million, a fraction of the $100 million that previous claims related to police torture had cost the city. But in the bill was an acknowledgement that torture had indeed taken place. There was to be a monument to the victims of police torture erected somewhere in the city. A psychological services center for survivors would be built. And there was to be a unit on police torture taught in eighth and tenth grade history classes throughout the city.

Interviewer: You mentioned the racial wealth gap and housing earlier.

Voice of Wendy Guan: Yes! In the aggregate sense, wealth is the value of your assets minus your debts. If we were going to focus on financial compensation, we needed something concrete as a … prism for our analysis, so to speak. Economic disadvantages can harm your ability to accumulate wealth. And in the United States, at least, the surest way to accumulate wealth is through homeownership. And that is how we came to focus on a location-based analysis for the algorithm.

Redacted: We’d programmed the algo to produce a number per ZIP code based on the values we input. That output would correspond to a scale we cooked up of dollar amounts. A lot of numbers we had to figure out beforehand. Tax assessments and foreclosure rates. Not just the number of schools, but also the number of school closures. Then there’s the police part. It took forever, but through arrest records, we could trace the incarcerated back to where they had initially been arrested. We then took the settlement amounts from police brutality cases as well as the number of cases that went to trial but plaintiffs lost. Legal took care of that part. And together we extrapolated what the incarcerated might have lost in wages and married that to unemployment data. That was hell to disaggregate by ZIP code. But we had our inputs that we turned into superinputs, and then we could generate our output: the amount in dollars that would be apportioned to each ZIP code. It’s “If, Then” with a super complicated “If.”

Other than that, we had no idea where the money would go. But that wasn’t up to us. All that decision-making was a bit above our pay grade. You gotta talk to the big guy about that, and I don’t think anybody knows where he is. After everything that went down, Mayor Gaetz—or, rather, former Mayor Gaetz—kinda just vanished. Which … I don’t blame him.

When we ran that algo for the first time for a single ZIP code, we thought there had to be a mistake. Double-checked the inputs, the superinputs, ran it again. And again. And again. We ran that algo maybe 300 times. Figured we broke the scale. But, no. That first dollar amount … to make all things equal … was just that huge.

Former City Councilman Richard Perkins and corporate lawyer Tommy DiSanto are finishing their lunch.

Perkins: I put the team together to figure out if this reparations program was financially viable. Not just that, but whether these disbursements were something that we could keep going. This wasn’t going to be a one-time check to Black folk. The REPAIR Act was sustained investment. Funds disbursed to individual households, but also location-based budget allocations for school districts. More schools and better schools. Investment in diversion programs and mental health programs. Increased sanitation. Infrastructure repair. Parks. Printer paper for libraries. Job training programs across industries. And it all had to keep going. I knew there wasn’t gonna be enough money in the budget to suddenly make things right on the property end. So we co-opted the bond system. Instead of using it to finance police brutality settlements, we’d use it to fund our plan. It was gonna be impossible to get the mayor on board with this if we had to come up with a new system from whole cloth to base our funding on. But if we could use what was already there and flip it—we already had the data operation going from his campaign—then he could see where we were coming from and where we were going.

DiSanto: I’ve never done so much math in my whole entire life.

Voice of Wendy Guan: We were already thinking to the distant future. A city changes. The algorithm needed to be able to change with it.

I was watching a little girl ride her bike the other day, and I think this provides the best example for what I’m trying to explain. I don’t have to explain that a bicycle has two wheels or even that you ride the thing by pushing your feet to the pedals in a circular motion. The girl just knows these things. But figuring how to ride a bicycle—how to balance without falling off, how to deal with ruts in the road—that’s a different kind of knowledge. Skill-based. You’re learning. This little girl kept trying to get up this tiny, tiny hill. She would stall at the steepest part, then fall backward. Then, at one point, as she’s trying to make her way up, she leans forward. Just a little bit, then a little more. Finally, after she crested the hill, she goes back to how she was sitting before. No one told her to do that.

Before, algorithms had been operating toward the knowing of a specific thing. “Knowing that,” so to speak. But machine learning is focused on knowing how. A basic algorithm recognizes the thing in front of it as a bicycle. But machine learning is what gets you up the hill. We had the algorithm for the initial disbursement, but we needed it to recognize that a city changes. Would our algorithm know what to do with a new refugee population moving into a targeted neighborhood? When the districts are inevitably redrawn, will it still operate with the same sophistication? If half of a ZIP code is replaced with luxury condominiums? What would the algorithm decide to do?

We didn’t have the time or resources to program A.I. to do that, so we took those decisions on ourselves. How much of the dollar amount would go to schools? What to do with home valuations? Maybe … maybe if we could’ve got the algorithm to handle all of that, things would have turned out differently. Maybe the algorithm could’ve decided better than us.

The REPAIR Act was signed into law in February of 20 and disbursement of funds began on June 19 of that year, traditionally the holiday known as Juneteenth.

Sandra Ewing, 37, former resident of ——:

That first check come, I called my sister. She lives on the other side of town, and I asked her where this came from. She ain’t heard nothin’ ’bout a check, but pretty soon, I found out everyone on my block got one. Same amount, too. It wasn’t unemployment. Wasn’t a tax refund or nothin’ either. You had a job or you didn’t, you got a check. Found out just about everyone in my neighborhood got a check. There were a couple other neighborhoods like that too, but not everyone in the city got one. There was some letter in there about a new law got passed, but I just wanted to see what the catch was, you know what I mean? It was a blessing, though.

First chance I got, stocked up on food and fixed the microwave. Still had money left over, so I got to have someone come through and deep-clean the apartment. Was supposed to be regular, because of city health regulations, but can’t nobody in that building afford to completely sanitize their homes once every week. I figured the check was a one-off, so I was just focused on keeping my son, Jeremy, fed and safe.

But the checks kept coming, several months in a row. So I started socking some away, and suddenly, you turn around and look at your bank account just [blinks dramatically and laughs]. You know what I’m sayin’? I’m still countin’ every penny I spend on this family, but I ain’t gotta worry about eviction if suddenly the toaster break or there’s a leak in the apartment that needs to be fixed or this or that or whatever thing. Your thinking changes. Before, I’m just trying to make it to the 1st or 15th without my boy starving. But then you get to thinking about things like moving, like Jeremy being in a better school. The schools here seemed to be gettin’ some money, but it’s nothing like what they got just outside the city. So I’m finally able to take some time off from work, after not having missed a day in 21 years. And I go looking at apartments. Condos. That sort of thing. Imagine that! Me! Shoppin’ for condos!

The neighborhood was starting to change too. I think we figured out pretty quickly that the checks were comin’ to specific neighborhoods. And, yeah, money was goin’ to the community, but fixin’ up a school building, making sure there are enough soap dispensers in the halls, improving the curriculum, the school lunch program, all that takes time. That’s time a lot of us don’t have. So I got out. Couldn’t get out quick enough. Landlord saw the market and started jackin’ up the price soon as he could. So we moved. Me and my Jeremy picked up and set out. He loves his new school, but the checks stopped coming. I’m working two jobs instead of three now, but it’s getting harder to keep Jeremy in that school. We ain’t even talking about college.

They’re saying the checks back home stopped coming too. Money was comin’ for about a year, then stopped. By then, everybody done up and moved, and now the rent’s too high to move back. So we’re stuck.

Professor Higgins: You need to understand that reparations are a national redemption project. A government can print money, as much as it wants. Don’t listen to economists. They’re wrong. But a place built on the backs of others needs all of its decision-makers to acknowledge the totality of the wrong. It goes beyond money. That’s why the Project ended the way it did. Were reparations a simple game of numbers, all you’d need is the magic number, and you’d be fine. But everyone on that team was so besotted with the whole thing that they failed to see just what they were truly up against. For such a redemption project to work, you need this country to admit that it was wrong. And someone will always come along and see Black Americans being given their due and want nothing more than to destroy it. They can’t countenance any other reality. I tried to tell this to Councilman Perkins’ team. But no one wanted to acknowledge just how deep the problem went.

Asking an algorithm to do what they wanted it to do would be to assume racism is logical. “If, then.” Now, racism has its own internal logic, sure, but it is the logic of nightmares. You can’t automate its reasoning.

Councilman Perkins and his team thought others would see what this city did and want to follow suit. But I knew that others would see what this city did and want to turn it to dust.

Nine months after the REPAIR Act was signed into law, following a series of protests at the state Capitol led by prominent conservative activists, the governor released a statement disavowing the legislation. A recall effort against Mayor Gaetz was initiated, and, six months before the end of his term as mayor, Frank Gaetz was removed from office on the grounds of misallocation of government funds.

The City Council selected Councilmember Robert Caine to finish Gaetzs term. Caine was subsequently reelected.

In a modest backyard, a white man in rolled-up shirt sleeves packs the soil behind a fence from which light green sprigs poke. He does this with care for several silent minutes, rises, then dusts his hands off and walks up his back porch. The body scanner framing the back entrance beeps as he passes through, then announces his temperature in red analog numbers.

The inside of the sitting room is just as modest. Sunlight shines through the west-facing windows to bounce off the glass covering a table designed to look like a hollowed-out tree trunk, gilding half of the man sitting in the chair facing the camera in profile. Hes still wearing the dirty overalls and the shirt sleeves from earlier. His gloves lie on his lap. The pose looks practiced.

Frank Gaetz, 47, former mayor of ——:

This may sound trite and I don’t mean it to, but writing the statement announcing the initiative was actually the most difficult part. I’m not discounting the work the team did. But it all falls apart if the statement isn’t right. You only get one shot at this. I remember the presidential primaries. And the reason the socialist lost to the centrist among Black voters in South Carolina in 2020 was, as told to me by a Black Carolinian, that voting for the socialist would require the Black community to believe that white people were capable of doing something they’ve never done before: willingly and openly share in the economic bounty of this country. I needed to convince them that we were there. But I also needed to convince my white constituents. And if this whole effort was dressed in machine neutrality, if I could say “blame the algorithm,” then maybe we could get away with the whole thing. Maybe it would feel a little bit less like a heist.

I was prepared to be the meat-shield here. If anything, it almost seemed like that was the point of the job. The team that Richie Perkins put together was formed sort of ad hoc. It was very Avengers. [Chuckling.] All of us from these different disciplines—lawyers, statisticians, historians, activists, politicians, even the medical professionals we consulted with—when they realized what Richie was doing, none of them balked. None of them thought it was impossible or too difficult. They all had the imagination for it. And it was my job to have the stomach for it.

Richie had brought the team together on his own, and they worked in secret, then prepared a report that landed on my desk. Richie and I talked for a long time. About the contents, then about the rollout, about who would get what and when. Before I knew it, I’d bought in. I didn’t even realize, but he’d converted me to the cause of reparations. And he knew it had to be me. It had to be the white guy.

It wasn’t just that white constituents would listen to me with less resentment than they would feel if it were coming from a Black mayor. It was the righting of things. A white guy does it and it feels less like theft and more like penance.

You look at the state the country was in at the time, it seemed like everything was getting torn down. And there’s me: young, rising star in the Democratic Party, not yet so progressive that the Establishment can’t sink its claws into me, but not so far bought that I can’t be pulled further to the left. And this opportunity lands on my desk in the form of this report. I used every bit of political capital I had to get the other city council members on board. Comptroller, all of them. Reminded me of that Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. You know why Chief Justice Warren worked so hard to get a unanimous decision? Anything less might’ve led the South to start another Civil War.

So there it is, all laid out there. How the dollar amounts were calculated. The mechanisms through which the funds should be disbursed. Further funding methods. All of it. And all I had to do was take credit.

During the recall effort, the names of the participants behind the initial REPAIR report were leaked. As a result, statistician Wendy Guans visa was revoked. She now lives in her native China.

Death threats were issued against Dr. Athena Davis and the team of data scientists with which she had worked after they were doxed.

Councilman Richard Perkins was charged with corruption and misuse of public funds. The charges were subsequently dropped. Shortly thereafter, he resigned from his position on the City Council.

Tommy DiSanto is currently a managing partner at Kittle & Loving and head of its pro bono practice.

Redacteds whereabouts are currently unknown. They participated in this documentary on the condition of anonymity.

The disbursement of funds to communities and individuals designated by the REPAIR Act lasted for 10 months.

JPMorgan currently holds $3.2 billion in bonds from the City of ——

In Stanley Quarter Park, a girl in a blue-and-white striped dress makes a slow turn on her bicycle, leaning in the opposite direction.

Dr. Davis smiles and walks over to congratulate her great-granddaughter.

Over the two of them in the middle distance, roll credits.

Read a response essay by Charlton McIlwain, a historian of technology and race.

This story and essay, and the accompanying art, are presented by A.I. Policy Futures, which investigates science fiction narratives for policy insights about artificial intelligence. A.I. Policy Futures is a joint project of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University and the Open Technology Institute at New America, and is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Google.

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