The state Reparations Task Force met on Wednesday at Oakland City Hall to determine how financial compensation might be calculated and what would be required to prove eligibility.
The Task Force was first put together in late 2020 following Gov. Gavin Newsom signing AB 3121 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) to establish it. They are currently looking for what possible reparations, monetary or otherwise, to recommend to give to African-Americans living in California for past discriminatory practices and slavery, despite slavery not occurring in California following statehood in 1850. While initially encompassing all people of African descent, the group of those qualified to receive reparations was significantly narrowed in March when the task force voted to limit the possible reparations only to those who are an African American descendant of an enslaved person or free Black person living in the US prior to the end of the 19th century.
In June the Task Force’s first report came out, giving a recommendation of reparations, likely in the form of home buying assistance, free college tuition, and business grants. However, one of the many criticisms against the report was that not estimated monetary figure was attached, with many worried about how high it could be. Earlier this month, an estimate of $569 billion was provided by the state, leading to uproar and the threat of lawsuits if the number holds. However, no plans on how that compensation would be calculated or what would even be needed to qualify for reparations had not been discussed, leading to Wednesday’s meeting.
Prior to the meeting, the Task Force had asked economists for help in what the state could possibly owe black residents, as slavery was out of the question due to California being a free state prior to the 13th amendment. They noted that the government taking of property, black-owned business devaluation, housing discrimination, incarceration, and health issues could be seen as issues to help calculate what is possibly owed.
The Task Force discussed when compensation should kick in for those groups, such as trying to find housing or being incarcerated after a certain year, living in a more predominantly black neighborhood, or what property has been taken in their family history, with the last one possibly included in situations such as how the Bruce’s Beach ownership debacle was settled. Also discussed was residency requirements, as the question comes to how long should someone have been a resident of California in order to receive compensation.
“The work that you all are doing statewide will help us guide the same process through the entire state of California, because the harm is real,” said Oakland City Councilwoman Carroll Fife at the meeting. “And the people here today to testify about that and the work that you all have done, collecting this robust set of suggestions to bring back to the state, is invaluable. It is literally priceless. And I’m grateful for your work. I’m grateful for your participation. And I look forward to accountability when this gets back to our legislators so that we can have real action.”
Reparations proposal meeting in Oakland
Some of the proposals Wednesday were simply cash payouts of $350,000 to every African American and $250,000 for every black-owned business to help close the racial wealth gap.
“It’s a debt that’s owed, we worked for free,” said Max Fennell, a coffee company owner, at the meeting. “We’re not asking; we’re telling you.”
Others were more conservative in proposals, such as receiving compensation but only in proven instances where racial injustice happened, such as having a home taken by the government or for being jailed for a long period to only be exonerated. Despite the discussions, many key parts, such as where the money would come from for reparations and how it would be distributed, have still not been answered.
“It’s a major problem, and one that the Task Force has no idea what to do about,” noted legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Wednesday. “This is billions of dollars at the very least, money the state does not have. So the Task Force can’t just say it will come from the state General Fund or they don’t have to pay taxes for several years.”
“As for the topic of calculation and eligibility, you are going to make a lot of people angry no matter what you decide on there. Like if you set the compensation timeframe between certain years of, say, housing discrimination. If you are one year off, you were just screwed out of a lot of money. For calculation, there is not going to be any decided figure that they are even going to remotely agree on. And that’s not even getting into the fact that, if this is put up and is passed and the Governor signs it, there are going to be a ton of lawsuits over it. It’s just an airing of grievances right now and political theater. Until we see a solid recommendation, all it is is talk.”
The Task Force is due to give their final reparations recommendations by June of 2023, with the Task Force then dissolving in December 2023. A bill hoping to extend the Task Force into 2024 was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom earlier this year.
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