California Approves Apology and Payments for Reparations Panel.
California’s Reparations Task Force has approved a set of recommendations for compensating Black residents for the generations of damage caused by discriminatory policies. The nine-member committee, which first convened nearly two years ago, gave final approval at a meeting in Oakland to a list of proposals that will now go to state lawmakers for consideration in reparations legislation. Historical discrimination against Black Californians in areas such as voting, housing, education, disproportionate policing and incarceration, and others were approved in the panel’s first vote. Other recommendations on the table ranged from the creation of a new agency to provide services to descendants of enslaved people to calculations on what the state owes them in compensation.
An apology and an admission of wrongdoing alone will not be enough, according to Chris Lodgson, an organizer with the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, a reparations advocacy group. An apology by lawmakers must “include a censure of the gravest barbarities” carried out on behalf of the state, according to the draft recommendation approved by the task force. The panel approved a public apology, acknowledging the state’s responsibility for past wrongs and promising the state will not repeat them. It will 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 violence against and mistreatment of Native Americans. The panel also approved a section of the draft report saying reparations should include “cash or its equivalent” for eligible residents. Many have said that it is past time for governments to repair the harms that have kept African Americans from living without fear of being wrongfully prosecuted, retaining property, and building wealth. Elaine Brown, former Black Panther Party chairwoman, urged people to express their frustrations through demonstrations.
Saturday’s task force meeting marked a crucial moment in the long fight for local, state, and federal governments to atone for discriminatory policies against African Americans. The proposals are far from implementation, however. 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 figure in the latest draft report released by the task force is far lower.
Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former Democratic assemblymember, authored legislation last year that created the task force with a focus on the state’s historical 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 voted previously to limit reparations to descendants of enslaved or free Black people who were 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.
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 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 a federal level, a decades-old proposal to create a commission studying reparations for African Americans has stalled in Congress.
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.