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California State Capitol

Source: Murat Taner / Getty

UPDATED: 8:00 a.m. ET., May 9, 2023

Could reparations be coming to reality in the United States?

Last weekend, California’s reparations task force voted to approve recommendations on compensating the descendants of Black enslaved people in the state. The list of proposals also includes cash payments and an official apology for generations of harmful discriminatory policies.

Let’s break down what was in the final report:

In the final report, the Committee detailed years of discrimination against Black Californians, which included voting, housing, education, disproportionate policing and incarceration as well as others.  

One of the first recommendations from the panel is that lawmakers craft an apology on behalf of the state that must “include a censure of the gravest barbarities.” Secondly, the panel recommends a new agency be created specifically to provide services to descendants of enslaved people as well as provide cash payments to those eligible.

The task force then gave two recommendations for how those eligible could be compensated: cumulative compensation for an eligible class and particular compensation for individuals for provable harms. 

Cumulative compensation takes into account community harms such as health disparities, mass incarceration, over-policing and housing discrimination. Particular compensation would require documented evidence of their harm before being eligible for payouts.

Other proposals from the group include declaring election day a paid state holiday, restoring voting rights to all formerly and currently incarcerated people, and implementing rent caps in historically redlined neighborhoods.

California Reparations Task Force meets to hear public input on reparations at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2022.

Source: Carolyn Cole / Getty

Economists in California met with the Reparations task force in March and estimated it will cost more than $800 billion to compensate the descendants of Black enslaved people in the state. 

Also proposed, but not included in the $800 billion, was a recommended $1 million per older Black resident for health disparities. These figures were proposed by a handful of economists and policy experts tasked to report possible figures to the reparations task force.

Other recommendations highlighted by AP included compensating people for property unjustly taken by the government, devaluing Black businesses, paying incarcerated inmates market value for their labor, establishing free wellness centers in Black communities, banning cash bail and adopting a K-12 Black studies curriculum.

Eight hundred billion is a daunting figure and some experts believe such large amounts of money will not pass in the state Assembly or Senate.

“That’s going to be the real hurdle,” said Sen. Steven Bradford, who sits on the panel. “How do you compensate for hundreds of years of harm, even 150 years post-slavery?”

Task force members may not know exactly what reparations will look like, but that hasn’t stopped them from pushing forward.

“We’ve got to go in with an open mind and come up with some creative ways to deal with this,” said task force member Reggie Jones-Sawyer told AP.

After a two-hour debate in March, the California reparations task force decided to vote for an agency that would provide certain services to descendants of Black enslaved people while overseeing groups that provide other services. 

MORE: Fact Check: Would White People Really Be Eligible For Reparations?

According to the Chair of the task force Kamilah Moore, the vote took into account the input from residents who spoke openly about wanting an agency with the power to provide services.

“It’s not enough for us as nine esteemed colleagues to determine what repair looks like,” Moore said to AP. “We have to listen to the descended community.”

It has been two years since the inception of California’s reparations task force. 

A vote on requirements for who would be eligible for payments was scheduled to happen over the weekend but was delayed due to an absent committee member.

The task force will release its comprehensive set of recommendations for what reparations will look like for descendants of slaves in California on July 1.

California is pushing the topic into the spotlight with its state-backed reparations task force committee.

Back in 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to begin a two-year exploration and hopefully a solid plan on what reparations might look like for Black Americans living in the Golden State. The initiative was also designed to reflect on slavery’s harsh past and its current effect on Black Americas living in the United States. Committee members are expected to deliver a final reparations proposal by July 2023.

California Reparations Task Force meets to hear public input on reparations at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2022.

Source: Carolyn Cole / Getty

Who represents the committee?

California’s reparations task force consists of nine members: Senator Steven Bradford, Dr. Amos C. Brown, who is the vice-chair of the committee, Dr. Cheryl Grills, Lisa Holder, Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Chair member Kamilah Moore and Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe. According to the state of California’s Department of Justice website, the task force members were selected from diverse backgrounds to represent “the interests of communities of color throughout the state” and “have experience working to implement racial justice reform.”

Dr. Amos C. Brown, for example, is the president of San Francisco’s NAACP chapter, while Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat, currently represents South Los Angeles’ 59th Assembly District. Lisa Holder is a prominent civil rights attorney. Task Force members hold regular hearings and witness testimonies to discuss reparation plans. Many of the conversations are open to the public to attend.

Who gets first priority?

As NewsOne previously reported, after hours of deliberation and emotional testimonies, committee members hashed out a 5-4 vote in favor of limiting reparation payments to Black Californians who are descendants of U.S. slaves. It’s still unclear as to how the money will be distributed and how much restitution will be given to eligible Black Californians. Dr. Amos C. Brown pled with committee members to finalize an official proposal.

While a large majority of the committee agreed to the decision, some officials argued that the proposal should include all Black Americans. The decision means that Black immigrants living in the state would be ineligible to receive reparation payments. The vote established that only Black Californians “who are able to trace their lineage back to enslaved ancestors ” in the U.S. would be considered.

“We need to galvanize the base and that is Black people,”  task force member Lisa Holder argued. “We can’t go into this reparations proposal without having all African Americans in California behind us.” Holder proposed that the task force should use California’s 2.6 million Black residents to calculate a proper compensation plan as they continue to draw up an effective proposal.

However, Kamila Moore, the task force chair, claimed that expanding eligibility would go against the purpose of the committee’s ethos.

“That is going to aggrieve the victims of the institution of slavery, which are the direct descendants of the enslaved people in the United States,” she said. “It goes against the spirit of the law as written.”

Some anti-reparation critics have argued that California shouldn’t dish out money to Black Americans because it was a free state under the Compromise of 1850, a bill that was passed to defuse a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired in the Mexican–American War. However, historical records have shown that California allowed some enslaved people to remain in bondage during that period. The state was also complicit in taking wages and land from Black people for redevelopment, forcing Black families to flock to neighborhoods where they weren’t eligible to receive bank loans to purchase property, AP News noted.

What kind of reparations are being considered?

Much discussion has revolved around monetary restitution for African American descendants of U.S. slaves that could come in the form of monthly payments.  Other committee members have presented ideas on how to alleviate some of the hardships Black Americans still face today with issues like redlining, mass incarceration or homelessness. According to Cal Matters, Black men make up a large majority of the state’s prison population at 28.5%. Black people also account for nearly 40% of the unhoused population in California. Some reparation advocates have addressed the need for free college, home-buying assistance initiatives, land, and business grants for eligible African Americans to empower the community through education and provide families with potential wealth-building tools that could make up for history’s past.

“Reparations for black Americans who are descendants of American slaves are there for the same reason as it was for the Japanese Americans who were interned for the settlements that were made to Native Americans for restitution….that is still being paid to Holocaust survivors,” burgeoning reparations activist Marcel Dixon argued during a Twitter Space panel conducted by journalist Michael Harriot on April 12. “It is to pay back and repair the damage that was done and to pay a debt because of wrongs that was inflicted on a particular group…reparations is a payment on that debt.”

What’s next for the task force?

Committee members will deliver a final reparations proposal to the legislature by July 1, 2023.

SEE ALSO:

40 Acres And A Mule: What Are Reparations And Why Is The Concept So Polarizing?

California Taskforce Vote To Limit Reparations To Descendants Of Slaves In U.S.

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