The Reparations Task Force voted Thursday 5-4 to delay a vote on the matter of who will be eligible for reparations, surprising many who believed that they would come a definite decision on the issue.
The Reparations Task Force was created in 2020 when AB 3121 was passed and signed into law. The bill established the “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” with the task force charged with documenting and looking into issues surrounding slavery in California, including denying free and runaway blacks into the state pre-1865. Most critically, the task force is to issue recommendations if any kind of reparations are to be given. Specifically, the task force, comprised of 9 members selected by the Governor, Assembly, and Senate, is also to set parameters on who would be eligible for possible reparations and how reparations, most likely cash, would be distributed.
The task force first met in June of 2021 but soon came up to a major issue of who receive reparations. In previous months, Secretary of State Shirley Weber has said that reparations would only be given to direct descendants of slaves. However, other members of the task force have since said that they would want to back a system where all black Californians would be covered in a tier-like system. While descendants of slaves would be at the top of the tier for receiving reparations, other black Californians hurt by “historic and systemic racism” could still receive funds. Mixed-race Californians with black ancestry and recent black immigrants from overseas countries would, theoretically, also be able to receive funds under such a tiered system.
Despite the contention, many close to the issue of reparations had expected the Task Force to come to a definite conclusion on Thursday. However, with the Task Force split, and many members stating that not enough information was known to make a definite decision on the matter, the eligibility vote was delayed until next month.
Some members voiced concerns about denying reparations simply because slavery lineage could not be established.
“I am 100% opposed to thinking about this as a final vote on the matter of our community of eligibility,” said Task Force member Dr. Cheryl Grills on Thursday during the Zoom meeting. “I say that I’m against it, because we have not finished doing our work to know the implications and the cost of denying reparations because they cannot establish that lineage.”
Task Force member Lisa Holder was more blunt in her support for a tier-based system, noting that “In this moment, we have to embrace this concept that Black lives matter, not just a sliver of those Black lives, because Black lives are in danger —especially today. If you have black skin, you are catching hell in this country.”
Task Force members split over which African Americans would be eligible for possible reparations
Other members simply noted that the issue was big and was not likely going to be resolved in a meeting, calling for and narrowly passing a motion to stop the vote over eligibility, as it was obvious that resolution was not possible.
“I don’t want to feel like we’re rushed into something,” added Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). “There have been brilliant arguments on all sides and I just think we can flush this out a little bit more.”
Legal and social observers on Friday noted more issues the Task Force faces besides the growing issue of eligibility, many of which may be affected legally.
“Who the board determines to be eligible now would likely stick to when the Task Force reports back next year,” explained legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Friday. “And if a bill is approved around reparations, which can be placed further in jeopardy now if lawmakers are also split over who should get any, we’re talking millions of people potentially either getting or not getting money or what they decide on for reparations. That’s big. And, either way they go, lawsuits will abound either from people left out or it covering too large a swath of people. A lawsuit will likely go out anyway over the fact that slavery ended in 1865, there are no living people directly affected by it, and that California itself was a union state during the war that opposed slavery.”
“Right now the Task Force is building up a part of the report on hundreds of years of oppression for black Americans to loophole their way past those questions, but the question of who gets reparations is still very much there. There’s no way to thread the needle to make it clear of all legal challenges, but there are things they can do to try and make sure that they don’t have to face a lawsuit essentially ending reparations before they even begin.”
The Task Force is due to reconvene on the matter later in March, with a vote now being hope to be resolved upon then.
“I hope, I pray we come to common ground,” noted Task Force Vice Chairman Dr. Amos Brown near the end of Thursday’s meeting.