The San Francisco reparations committee announced on Tuesday that the controversial one time payment of $5 million per black resident’ reparations figure proposed in January has not mathematical basis, and is instead based on “what could represent a significant enough investment.”
In the last few years following the George Floyd incident, reparations proposals for African-Americans have popped up across the United States. Statewide, a Reparations Task Force was approved by the Legislature and Governor in the summer of 2020 and has been meeting ever since to create a recommendation on what reparations could be for Californians whose ancestors were slaves in the US before 1865. Last year, the task force limited the reparation proposal to descendants of slaves only instead of all black Californians, called for reparations to be given despite California being a free-state since it’s inception, and estimated that $569 billion is owed to black Californians.
With a looming deadline, the Task Force is struggling on eligibility requirements, compensation calculation, and numerous other issues. May have noted that even if a recommendation is formulated, there will be numerous legislative challenges, legal challenges, and other hurdles that would likely end any future reparations plans.
However, while the Reparations Task Force has been working on a statewide proposal, San Francisco formed their own committee, the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee. Since being founded in 2020, the Committee has worked on what citywide reparations could possibly look like. As of Wednesday, the Committee currently defines those eligible in the city as being 18 or older, being listed as black or African-American on public documents for at least the past decades, and two or more of the following:
- Having been born or migrating to the city between 1940 and 1996 as well as showing proof of at least 13 years of residency
- Having been incarcerated due to the war on drugs or being the direct descendant of someone who was
- Being a descendant of someone who was enslaved before 1865
- Having been displaced between 1954 and 1973 or being a descendant of someone who did
- Being part of a marginalized group who experienced lending discrimination in the city between 1937 and 1968 or in formerly redlined communities within the city between 1968 and 2008
While housing funds, job creation, and other benefits have been discussed as reparations within the city, the Committee recommended a controversial one-time $5 million payment per qualified black resident in January. The figure generated widespread criticism in San Francisco and across the country, with the Committee defending the figure by saying that the payment “would compensate the affected population for the decades of harms that they have experienced and will redress the economic and opportunity losses that black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by City policy.”
Opponents pressed Committee members on how the figure was formulated and on what metrics they were using. Many compared it to the state plan and how open they were being with their process.
“The Task Force’s initial ‘$569 billion’ figure at least tried to show their work,” said legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Wednesday. “They based it on the housing wealth gap and how much black residents lost in the past due to different polices. Flawed? Very much so. Passable in the Legislature? Not with California’s budget. Laughable? Yes. But they at least showed how they came up with it. They showed their work.”
“San Francisco on the other hand has been shady. It’s good that they nailed down who exactly would be eligible in the proposal, but they never said how they arrived at that $5 million figure. It always seemed like too round a figure.”
“There wasn’t a math formula”
The figure was immediately lambasted, with local lawmakers explaining that the city did not have the money for such a reparations plan and would have to severely cut into city services or raise taxes to make it happen. However, the estimated figure remained. After weeks of demands by city residents, Committee Chairman Eric McDonnell finally revealed how the figure was calculated on Tuesday. According to McDonnell, it wasn’t.
“There wasn’t a math formula,” said McDonnell in a Washington Post interview. “It was a journey for the committee towards what could represent a significant enough investment in families to put them on this path to economic well-being, growth and vitality that chattel slavery and all the policies that flowed from it destroyed.”
The remark brought considerable outrage on Tuesday and Wednesday. While committee members attempted to defend it, saying that a price tag couldn’t be put on the horrors of slavery and discrimination, many simply noted that there was no justification behind the figure and failed to even try to give a basic estimate overview.
“This is just a bunch of like-minded people who got in the room and came up with a number,” said San Francisco Republican Party Chairman John Dennis. “You’ll notice in that report, there was no justification for the number, no analysis provided. This was an opportunity to do some serious work and they blew it.”
Others noted on Wednesday that support for reparations in the city has begun to evaporate even more as a result.
“That admission is taking it’s toll right now,” added Weaver. “The fact that they were basing this on what they felt was right instead of being factually-based or being backed up by, really, any evidence is, well, it’s just insulting. There’s no denying that slavery was horrible, and we have worked hard for generations to address that. But just giving a huge check based on nothing? That’s insane. The Committee’s credibility sunk to a new low today. They’re basing this without any evidence. As a colleague in San Francisco told me yesterday, ‘They’re no better than people who think the Earth is flat or think we never landed on the moon now.” You know, when you’re not basing what you’re saying on anything factual, that’s the reputation you get, and this Committee is not only becoming that, but they may now hurt the whole reparations movement as a result now.”
More announcements from both the state and San Francisco reparations committees are to come soon.
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