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    Reparations task force gives recommendations on how California can atone for slavery
    • June 30, 2023

    State legislators can now begin to draw up laws that would give Black Californians restitution for the long-term effects of slavery.

    The California Task Force to Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans culminated two years of work on Thursday, June 29, when it presented its final report recommending monetary compensation, a formal public apology from the state, and replacing what it called racist policies with new ones.

    These recommendations were among many ways the task force urged a progressive path forward for Black Californians.

    “This is going to be the start of another lengthy process,” said task force member Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, during Thursday’s meeting. “Reparations is not a gift, not a handout, not charity. It is what is promised, what is owed and what is long overdue… It’s past due time to repay African American people.”

    From left, State Sen. Steven Bradford, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, task force member Lisa Holder and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer hold up a final report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, June 29, 2023. The report heads to lawmakers who will be responsible for turning policy recommendations into legislation. Reparations will not happen until lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom agree. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

    FILE – Pia Harris, with the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, second from left, and her mother, Adrian Williams, listen to speakers at a reparations rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco, Tuesday, March 14, 2023. Harris hopes for reparations in her lifetime. But the nonprofit program director is not confident that California lawmakers will turn the recommendations of a first-in-the-nation task force into concrete legislation, given the pushback from opponents who say slavery was a thing of the past. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

    Black community groups at a rally to push the California Legislature to pass a number of bills on social justice and to enact recommendations by a state panel that has called for reparations, in Sacramento, May 10, 2023. Republicans have criticized recent estimates of what Black Americans are owed in reparations, but for Democrats, the payments pose deeper problems for a party eager to retain the allegiance of Black voters. (Andri Tambunan/The New York Times)

    A Los Angeles resident holds up a sign as the Reparations Task Force meets to hear public input on reparations in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2022.
    (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

    Reparations task force members listen during the public comment portion of a December 14, 2022 meeting in Oakland on reparations proposals for African Americans. (Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters)

    FILE – A crowd listens to speakers at a reparations rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco, on March 14, 2023. California’s first-in-the-nation reparations task force wraps up its historic work Thursday, June 29, 2023, with the formal submission to lawmakers of a final report that includes dozens of recommendations on how the state can apologize and compensate Black residents for decades of discriminatory practices and policies. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

    In this June 11, 2020, file photo, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, wears a face mask as she calls on lawmakers to create a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, during the Assembly session in Sacramento. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

    Attendees of the dedication ceremony of the plaque honoring the history of Bruce’s Beach view the plaque on March 18th, 2023 at Manhattan Beach, CA. (Photo by Gil Castro-Petres, Contributing Photographer)

    FILE – People line up to speak during a reparations task force meeting at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco on April 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Janie Har, File)

    FILE – A crowd listens to speakers at a reparations rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco, on March 14, 2023. California’s first-in-the-nation reparations task force wraps up its historic work Thursday, June 29, 2023, with the formal submission to lawmakers of a final report that includes dozens of recommendations on how the state can apologize and compensate Black residents for decades of discriminatory practices and policies. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

    Pastor Les Robinson delivers a sermon at The Sanctuary Church Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Santa Clarita, Calif. California’s first-in-the-nation Black reparations task force is nearing the end of its historic work with a hefty list of recommendations for lawmakers to consider turning into action. Black residents say they hope the effort results in meaningful reparations. Compensation is an important part of state reparations proposals because Black Americans have “been deprived of a lot of money,” due to discriminatory policies, said Robinson. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    FILE – People join hands as they pose for a photo in the Reflecting Pool in the shadow of the Washington Monument as they attend the March on Washington, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. California’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations is at a crossroads with members divided on which Black Americans should be eligible for compensation. The task force could vote on the question of eligibility on Tuesday, March 28, 2022, after putting it off at last month’s meeting. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)



    Implementing reparations won’t be done with one bill, or in one legislative cycle, Bradford added. The task force’s work will ultimately take root, he said, urging supporters to stay engaged and keep advocating for state policies that will forge a better future for Black people.

    The proposals now move to the state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was not present at the meeting.

    At the task force’s last meeting in early May, the nine-member committee gave final approval to the hefty list of proposals. Next, those recommendations will go to state lawmakers to consider for reparations legislation.

    Talks of reparations have gone on since slavery’s abolition in 1863, with the federal government’s promise of 40 acres and a mule to each freed Black person never being fulfilled.

    “When slavery ended in 1863, there was a promise of land that was never paid,” Bradford said. “If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt, and this is a debt that is owed.”

    The task force began its work in 2021, studying the political, economic, environmental and educational harms that slavery had on Black Californians and the descendants of slaves. It issued its first report last year, with recommendations such as paying incarcerated people market wages, and creating a state African American Affairs agency, which it built off of for the final proposals.

    The final report details historic atrocities that the state, under the panel’s recommendations, would apologize for — like demolishing thriving African American neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal and park construction — and promise to not repeat them.

    The report cited 1960s San Francisco where, operating under a state law for urban redevelopment, officials ordered the destruction of the Fillmore District; then the city’s most prominent African American neighborhood and business district. The move wiped out nearly 900 businesses, displaced nearly 5,000 households and damaged the lives of nearly 20,000 people – then left the land empty for many years.

    Similarly, in Manhattan Beach, city leadership nearly 100 years ago used eminent domain to take the land under a thriving Black-owned seaside resort, Bruce’s Beach Lodge, under the guise of needing land to build parks. That land sat vacant and wasn’t turned into a park until decades after the local government took it over.

    California Senate Bill 796, which Bradford co-authored in 2021, allowed the return of that land to Bruce descendants — a move that officials called the first tangible action of restorative justice for Black people in America.

    But officials said there are still endless stories in which people don’t get their property back or the funds they deserve for it.

    Three people who testified at Thursday’s meeting shared how their families’ land was taken through eminent domain. They said they were not properly compensated, and continued to be forced from one redlined neighborhood to the next, restricted from living where and how they wanted to, unlike the White people in communities around them.

    In the 1,000-page report, the task force also:

    Suggests how to calculate cash reparations to address the community’s health disparities, incarceration, over-policing, housing discrimination, devaluation of Black-owned businesses, unjust property takings by eminent domain and labor discrimination
    Discusses how a survey on the California Racial Justice Act could help root out and address bias in the criminal justice system
    Suggests a standard curriculum centered on the task force’s findings and recommendations, and funding for it
    Compiles cases, state and federal laws that demonstrate that federal and state systems have institutionalized discrimination against African American people

    Though the state legislature will have to ultimately determine the amount of monetary reparations to be paid, and how to distribute them, economists who reported to the task force had previously estimated that Black residents could be owed more than $800 billion collectively.

    “The cost of reparations will be high,” Bradford said, “but make no mistake, the harms that were done are just as high and the disparities its created continue to this day.”

    If California puts half a percent, or $1.5 billion, of its $300 billion annual budget into annuity each year, “we can pay for it,” he added. The state finds money to do other things, “so this is our priority.”

    The task force meeting set the blueprint for possible reparations proposals and sweeping policy changes across the nation. Illinois, for its part, has an African Descent-Citizens Reparations Commission that has been working alongside California to figure out such recommendations for African Americans in that state.

    Protesters participate in a march on August 29, 2020 from Manhattan Beach City Hall to Bruce’s Beach. The protest was one of the first to bring attention to the local, historical issue of systemic racism and of the City taking over the property via eminent domain. (Photo by Tracey Roman, Contributing Photographer)

    Historian and author Alison Rose Jefferson has studied how governments land-grabbed Black property through the Jim Crow era, the effects of those practices on Black people, and their ability to own property today. She wrote about Bruce’s Beach and other Black Californian leisure sites in her book, “Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era.”

    During testimony at a December 2021 task force meeting, Jefferson recommended that the state invest more in knowledge about Black history so that legislators can make informed policy. She also suggested the state give access to land-grabbed areas where Black people once gathered, especially through jobs and affordable housing.

    Before Thursday’s final hearing, Jefferson said that the report being turned into any laws that could benefit Black people will be “incremental… it would take lifetimes for the playing field to be leveled to White counterparts.”

    “We’ll be able to do something, but it’ll never be as ethnically mixed as it may have been, if (Black) folks who settled at the beach in the early 20th century had been able to stay down there,” she said. “We can make the guess that if they had been allowed to stay there and grow with the city, they may have had more input in the city’s development, and it may have been a different kind of community than it is today.”

    Although California entered the Union in 1850 as a free state, its early state government supported slavery, the report stated. In 1852, officials passed a fugitive slave law that put Black people living in California at risk of being deported to slave-holding states in the south. Some scholars estimated up to 1,500 enslaved African Americans lived in the state that year.

    And that history of white supremacy in government still rears its head today.

    Over 100 of the 536 last sitting U.S. Congress members have family links to enslavers, Reuters reported.

    “That shows how they (lawmakers) think about developing our laws,” Jefferson said, “Because they are from this background of White Supremacy.”

    FILE – A crowd listens to speakers at a reparations rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco, on March 14, 2023. California’s first-in-the-nation reparations task force wraps up its historic work Thursday, June 29, 2023, with the formal submission to lawmakers of a final report that includes dozens of recommendations on how the state can apologize and compensate Black residents for decades of discriminatory practices and policies. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

    Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Perris, applauded the task force’s work and report. In a statement Thursday, he emphasized the importance of the real work in making these reparations happen moving forward.

    “Words alone are not enough. We must now take concrete steps to implement tangible policies that address the wealth inequality, housing segregation, discriminatory policing and maternal health disparities that have plagued our community for far too long,” Jackson said.

    Rosie Brady, secretary for the NAACP’s 1034 branch in Riverside, said before the hearing that she hopes for honesty when it comes to reparations policies. She also wondered about the implications of being a Black California resident who moved to the state from elsewhere.

    “I’m originally from Mississippi, a descendant of slaves — but now I live in California, so what does that mean?”

    Still, she is “hopeful” that reparations will allow Black people to “get ahead a little in life,” and be able to do things that she said have been “simple” for white people, like helping their children through college.

    “When Black people were freed they weren’t given anything,” Brady said. “Still, we’re at the lowest of the totem pole.”

    Related links

    California puts a price on slavery’s legacy and draws a blueprint for reparations
    California reparations task force to recommend ‘down payments’ for slavery, racism 
    Black Californians hope state reparations don’t become another broken promise
    California weighs $360,000 in reparations to eligible Black residents
    Supreme Court rules in favor of Black Alabama voters in unexpected defense of Voting Rights Act
    Juneteenth: Not a commercial holiday, but a celebration of Black freedom
    Los Angeles group fights eminent domain, racism

    ​ Orange County Register