California reparations task force votes to approve apology, payment

in California reparations task force voted Saturday to approve recommendations on how the state can compensate and apologize to Black residents for generations of damage caused by discriminatory policies.

The nine-member committee, which first nearly two years agogave final approval at a meeting in Oakland to a large list of proposals that now go to state lawmakers to consider for reparations laws.

US Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who cosponsored a bill in Congress to study restitution proposals for African Americans, at the meeting called on the states and the federal government to pass reparations legislation.

“Reparations are not only morally justifiable, but they have the potential to address long-standing racial disparities and inequalities,” Lee said.

The panel’s first vote approved a detailed account of historical discrimination against Black Californians in areas such as voting, housing, education, disproportionate policing and incarceration and more.

Other recommendations on the table range from creating a new agency to provide services to descendants of enslaved people to calculations of what the state owes them in compensation.

“An apology and an admission of wrongdoing by itself is not satisfactory,” said Chris Lodgson, an organizer with the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, a reparations advocacy group.

The apology made by the lawmakers should “include a condemnation of the worst barbarity” committed on behalf of the state, according to the draft recommendation approved by the task force.

That would include condemning former Governor Peter Hardeman Burnett, the state’s first elected governor and a white supremacist who pushed for laws to exclude Blacks from California.

After California entered the union in 1850 as a “free” state, it did not enact any laws to guarantee freedom for all, the draft recommendation said. In contrast, the state Supreme Court enforced the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed the capture and return of enslaved people, for more than a decade until freedom.

“By participating in these atrocities, California further perpetuates the harms faced by African Americans, perpetuating racial prejudice throughout society through segregation, public and private discrimination, and unfair spending state and federal funds,” the document says.

The task force approved a public apology that acknowledges the state’s responsibility for past mistakes and promises that the state will not repeat them. It will be released before the people whose ancestors were enslaved.

California previously apologized placement of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II and for violence against and mistreatment of Native Americans.

The panel also approved a section of the draft report that said reparations should include “cash or its equivalent” for eligible residents.

More than 100 residents and advocates gathered at Northeastern University’s Mills College in Oakland, a hometown of the Black Panther Party. They shared frustrations over the country’s “broken promise” to offer up to 40 acres and a mule to newly freed enslaved people.

Many say it is past time for governments to repair the damages that prevent African Americans from living without fear of wrongful prosecution, retaining property and building wealth.

Elaine Brown, former chairman of the Black Panther Party, encouraged people to express their frustrations through demonstrations.

Saturday’s task force meeting marked a key moment in the long fight for local, state and federal governments to pay for discriminatory policies against African Americans. The suggestions are far from implementationhowever.

“There is no way in the world that many of these recommendations will be passed because of the inflationary effect,” said Roy L. Brooks, a professor and scholar of reparations at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Some estimates from economists project that the state will be in debt up to $800 billionor more than 2.5 times its annual budget, in compensation for Blacks.

The number in the latest draft report released by the task force is lower. The group did not respond to email and phone requests for comment on the decline.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former Democratic assemblywoman, authored legislation in 2020 that created the task force that focused on the state’s historic culpability for harms against African Americans, and 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 Blacks who were in the country at the end of the 19th century.

The group’s work gained national attention, as efforts to research and secure reparations for African Americans elsewhere had mixed results.

The Chicago suburb of Evanston, for example, offers housing vouchers to Black residents but few have benefited from the program so far.

In New York, a bill to recognize the inhumanity of slavery in the state and create a commission to study reparations proposals was passed by the Assembly but did not receive a vote in the Senate.

And at the federal level, a decade-old proposal to create a commission to study reparations for African Americans has stalled in Congress.

Oakland City Councilman Kevin Jenkins called the task force’s work in California “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 to improve reparations in our great state of California and ultimately in the country,” Jenkins said.


Sophie Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Austin on Twitter: @sophieadanna

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