OAKLAND, Calif. — The California Reparations Task Force voted Saturday to approve recommendations for how the state can compensate and apologize to Black residents for generations of harm caused by discriminatory policies.
The nine-member committee, which first summoned almost two years agogave final approval at a meeting in Oakland to a sizable list of proposals now going to state legislators to consider reparations legislation.
US Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who is cosponsoring a bill in Congress to study restitution proposals for African-Americans, called at the meeting for states and the federal government to pass reparation laws.
“Reparations are not only morally justifiable, but have the potential to address longstanding racial disparities and inequities,” Lee said.
The panel’s first vote approved a detailed description of historical discrimination against black Californians in areas such as disproportionate voting, housing, education, policing and incarceration, and others.
Other recommendations on the table ranged from creating a new agency to provide services to the descendants of enslaved people to calculations on what the state owes them in compensation.
“An apology and admission of wrongdoing alone will not be satisfying,” said Chris Lodgson, an organizer with the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, a reparations advocacy group.
An apology crafted by lawmakers must «include a censure of the most serious atrocities» carried out on behalf of the state, according to the draft recommendation approved by the task force.
Those would include a condemnation of former Gov. Peter Hardeman Burnett, the state’s first elected governor and a white supremacist who encouraged laws to exclude blacks from California.
After California entered the union in 1850 as a «free» state, it passed no laws to guarantee liberty for all, the draft recommendation notes. By contrast, the state Supreme Court enforced the Federal Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed for the capture and return of runaway enslaved persons, for more than a decade until emancipation.
“By participating in these horrors, California further perpetuated the harms faced by African Americans, imbuing racial bias throughout society through segregation, public and private discrimination, and the unequal disbursement of state and federal funds,” the document says. .
The task force approved a public apology acknowledging the state’s responsibility for past mistakes and pledging that the state will not repeat them. It would be cast 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 Native American violence and mistreatment.
The panel also approved a section of the draft report that says repairs must include «cash or its equivalent» for eligible residents.
More than 100 residents and supporters gathered at Northeastern University’s Mills College in Oakland, a city that is the birthplace 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 said it is time for governments to repair the damage that has prevented African Americans from living without fear of unfair prosecution, retaining property and accumulating wealth.
Elaine Brown, former chair of the Black Panther Party, urged people to vent their frustrations through demonstrations.
Saturday’s task force meeting marked a pivotal moment in the long fight by federal, state and local governments to atone for discriminatory policies against African-Americans. The proposals are far from implementationhowever.
“There is no way in the world that many of these recommendations will pass because of the inflationary impact,” said Roy L. Brooks, a professor and reparations expert at the University of San Diego School of Law.
Some estimates by economists have projected that the state could owe more than $800 billion, or more than 2.5 times its annual budget, in reparations to blacks.
The figure in the latest draft of the report published by the task force is much lower. The group has not responded to email and phone requests for comment about the reduction.
Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former Democratic Assemblymember, wrote legislation in 2020 that created the task force with a focus on the state’s historical culpability for harm against African Americans, and not as a substitute for additional reparations that may come of the federal government.
The task force previously voted to limit reparations to the descendants of enslaved or free blacks who were in the country at the end of the 19th century.
The group’s work has garnered nationwide attention, as efforts to investigate 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 so far taken advantage of the program.
In New York, a bill to recognize the inhumanity of slavery in the state and create a commission to study reparations proposals has passed the Assembly but failed to 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 Councilman 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 achieve significant momentum to advance reparations in our great state of California and ultimately the country,” Jenkins said.