A California panel has called for billions in reparations for black residents : NPR

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People listen to the California reparations task force, a nine-member committee that studies restitution proposals for African Americans, at a meeting in Lesser Hall at Mills College at Northeastern University in ‘Oakland, California, Saturday, May 6, 2023.

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People listen to the California reparations task force, a nine-member committee that studies restitution proposals for African Americans, at a meeting in Lesser Hall at Mills College at Northeastern University in ‘Oakland, California, Saturday, May 6, 2023.

Sophie Austin/AP

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 met for the first time nearly two years ago, gave final approval at a meeting in Oakland to a strong list of proposals that now go to state lawmakers to consider the -reparations legislation.

US Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who is sponsoring a bill in Congress to study restitution proposals for African Americans, at the meeting asked the 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 such as voting, housing, education, disproportionate policing and incarceration and others.

Other recommendations on the table ranged from the creation of a new agency to provide services to the descendants of enslaved people to calculations about what the state owes them as compensation.

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

An apology drawn up by the legislators must “include a censure of the gravest barbarities” committed in the name of the state, according to the draft recommendation approved by the task force.

Those include a conviction of former Governor 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 law to guarantee freedom for all, notes the draft recommendation. On the contrary, the Supreme Court of the state enforced the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed the capture and return of escaped enslaved people, for more than ten years until emancipation.

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

The task force approved a public apology that acknowledges the state’s responsibility for past harms and promised that the state will not repeat them. It was issued in the presence of people whose ancestors were slaves.

California has previously apologized for placing 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 says reparations should include “cash or its equivalent” for eligible residents.

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

Many said it was time for governments to repair the damage that prevented African Americans from living without fear of prosecution, holding property and building wealth.

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

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

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

Some estimates from economists projected that the state could owe over $800 billion, or more than 2.5 times its annual budget, in reparations to Black people.

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

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former Democratic Assembly member, authored legislation in 2020 that created the task force with an emphasis on the state’s historical culpability for wrongs 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 Black people who were in the country until the end of the 19th century.

The group’s work garnered attention across the country, as efforts to research and secure reparations for African Americans elsewhere 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 reparations proposals 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 has stalled in Congress.

Oakland City Council Member Kevin Jenkins called the work of the California task force a “powerful example” of what can happen when people work together.

“I am confident that through our collective efforts, we can make significant progress in advancing reparations in our great state of California and ultimately the country,” Jenkins said.

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