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California Reparations Committee approves recommendations on state apology and payments


OAKLAND, Calif. — California’s Reparations Task Force voted Saturday to approve recommendations on how the state can compensate and apologize to black residents for generations of harm caused by discriminatory policies.

The nine-member committee, which first met nearly two years ago, gave final approval at a meeting in Oakland to a long list of proposals that are now going to state lawmakers to are considering reparations legislation.

U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who is co-sponsoring a bill in Congress to study restitution proposals for African Americans, at the meeting called on states and the federal government to pass reparations legislation.

“Reparations are not only morally justifiable, but 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 including voting, housing, education, disproportionate policing and incarceration and others.

Other recommendations on the table ranged from creating a new agency to provide services to descendants of slaves to calculating what the state owes them in compensation.

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

An excuse crafted by lawmakers must “include censorship of the gravest barbarisms” conducted on behalf of the state, according to the draft recommendation approved by the task force.

These would include a condemnation of former Gov. Peter Hardeman Burnett, the state’s first elected governor and a white supremacist who pushed for laws to exclude black people from California.

After California entered the union in 1850 as a “free” state, it enacted no laws guaranteeing liberty for all, the draft recommendation notes. Rather, the state Supreme Court applied the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves, up to more than a decade until emancipation.

“By participating in these horrors, California has further perpetuated the harms suffered by African Americans, permeating racial bias throughout society through segregation, public and private discrimination, and the unequal disbursement of state and federal funding,” says the document.

The task force endorsed a public apology acknowledging state responsibility for past wrongs and promising that the state will not repeat them. It would be issued in the presence of people whose ancestors were enslaved.

California has previously apologized for placing Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II and for the violence and mistreatment of Native Americans.

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

More than 100 residents and activists gathered at Mills College at Northeastern University in Oakland, a city that is the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. They shared their frustrations with the country’s “broken promise” to offer up to 40 acres and a mule to newly freed slaves.

Many said it is long past time for governments to right the wrongs that have prevented African Americans from living without fear of wrongful prosecution, retaining their property and building wealth.

Elaine Brown, former chairwoman of the Black Panther Party, urged people to vent their frustrations through protests.

Saturday’s task force meeting marked a pivotal moment in the long struggle of local, state and federal governments to atone for discriminatory policies against African Americans. The proposals are however far from being implemented.

“There’s no way in the world that many of these recommendations are going to pass because of the inflationary impact,” said Roy L. Brooks, professor and reparations specialist at the University of San Francisco School of Law. Diego.

Some estimates by economists have projected that the state could owe more than $800 billion, more than 2.5 times its annual budget, in reparations to black people.

The figure in the latest draft report published by the task force is much lower. The band did not respond to email and phone requests for comment on the cut.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former Democratic Assemblywoman, drafted legislation in 2020 creating the task force with a focus on the state’s historic culpability for harms to African Americans, and not in lieu of any additional relief that may be provided by the federal government.

The task force previously voted to limit reparations to descendants of enslaved or free black people who were in the country at the end of the 19th century.

The group’s work has drawn national attention, as efforts to seek and obtain redress for African Americans elsewhere have had mixed results.

The Chicago suburb of Evanston, for example, has offered 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 proposed reparations passed the Assembly but did not receive a vote. in the Senate.

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

Oakland City Councilman 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 effort to advance reparations in our great state of California, and ultimately the country,” Jenkins said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.