California’s reparations task force voted Saturday to approve recommendations on how the state may compensate and apologize to Black residents for generations of harm caused by discriminatory policies.
The nine-member committee, which met for the first time nearly two years ago, granted final approval to a long list of suggestions for reparations legislation at a meeting in Oakland.
At the conference, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, cosponsoring a measure in Congress to examine restitution proposals for African Americans, urged states and the federal government to approve reparations legislation.
“Reparations are not only morally justifiable, but they have the potential to address longstanding racial disparities and inequalities,” Lee said.
The first vote on the panel approved a detailed narrative of historical discrimination against Black Californians in areas such as voting, housing, education, disproportionate policing, and incarceration, among others.
Other suggestions on the table were the establishment of a new organization to give services to descendants of enslaved individuals, as well as estimations of what the state owes them in reparations.
“An apology and an admission of wrongdoing just by itself is not going to be satisfactory,” said Chris Lodgson, an organizer with the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, a reparations advocacy group.
According to the task force’s draft resolution, an apology produced by parliamentarians must “include a censure of the gravest barbarities” committed on the state’s behalf.
Among them would be a rebuke of former Gov. Peter Hardeman Burnett, the state’s first elected governor and a white supremacist who advocated for laws to keep Black people out of California.
The draft recommendation states that once California joined the union as a “free” state in 1850, it did not implement any laws to ensure freedom for all. On the contrary, until liberation, the Louisiana Supreme Court enforced the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed for the capture and return of runaway enslaved persons.
“By participating in these horrors, California further perpetuated the harms African Americans faced, imbuing racial prejudice throughout society through segregation, public and private discrimination, and unequal disbursal of state and federal funding,” the document says.
The task force approved a public apology acknowledging the state’s responsibility for past wrongs and promising the state would not repeat them. It would be issued in the presence of people whose ancestors were enslaved.
California has previously apologized for interning Japanese Americans during WWII and for brutality against and maltreatment of Native Americans.
The panel also agreed to include “cash or its equivalent” in reparations for eligible residents in the draft report.
More than a hundred locals and activists met at Mills College of Northeastern University in Oakland, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. They expressed dissatisfaction with the country’s “broken promise” to provide newly liberated enslaved people up to 40 acres and a mule.
Many people believe it is time for governments to remedy the injustices that have prevented African Americans from living freely, maintaining property, and building prosperity.
Former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown advised people to voice their dissatisfaction through protests.
The task force meeting on Saturday was a watershed event in the lengthy campaign for local, state, and federal governments to apologize for discriminatory policies against African Americans. However, the recommendations are distant from being implemented.
“There’s no way in the world that many of these recommendations will get through because of the inflationary impact,” said Roy L. Brooks, a professor and reparations scholar at the University of San Diego School of Law.
Some estimates from economists have projected that the state could owe upwards of $800 billion, or more than 2.5 times its annual budget, in reparations to Black people.
The amount in the task force’s most recent draft report is significantly lower. The organization has not replied to requests for comment on the reduction by email or phone.
Shirley Weber, a former Democratic assemblymember, created the task force in 2020 focusing on the state’s historical culpability for harms against African Americans, not as a substitute for any additional reparations that may come from the federal government.
The task force previously voted to limit reparations to descendants of enslaved or free Black people in the country by the end of the 19th century.
The group’s work has garnered nationwide attention, as efforts to research and secure reparations for African Americans elsewhere have had mixed results.
For example, the Chicago suburb of Evanston has offered housing vouchers to Black residents but few have benefited from the program.
In New York, a bill to acknowledge the inhumanity of slavery in the state and create a commission to study reparations proposals has passed the Assembly but not received a vote in the Senate.
And on the federal level, Congress has stalled a decades-old proposal to create a commission studying reparations for African Americans.
Oakland city Councilmember Kevin Jenkins called the California task force’s work “a powerful example” of what can happen when people work together.
“I am confident that through our collective efforts, we can make a significant drive in advancing reparations in our great state of California and ultimately the country,” Jenkins said.
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