The first California legislative Slavery Reparations Task Force meeting convened on Tuesday, beginning a two year process in which they will come up with what reparations would be to descendants of former slaves will be and who exactly would be eligible for such reparations.
The Task Force was put together following the passage of AB 3121 last year. Under the bill, which was authored by then-Senator and current Secretary of State Shirley Weber, the task force will document and look into issues surrounding slavery in California, including denying free and runaway blacks into the state pre-1865, as well as issue recommendations into what, if any, reparations would be given. The task force, comprised of 9 members selected by the Governor, Assembly, and Senate, will also set parameters on who would be eligible for possible reparations and how reparations, most likely cash, would be distributed.
The Task Force was pieced together earlier this year. Governor Gavin Newsom chose 5 members, including former student of Martin Luther King Jr. and San Francisco Baptist Pastor Amos C. Brown, Loyola Marymount clinical psychologist Cheryl Grills, Los Angeles racial and social justice lawyer Lisa Holder, UC Berkeley Geography and Economic Disparity research Professor Jovan Lewis, and Korematsu v. United States, lawyer Donald Tamaki, who helped lead to landmark reparations for Japanese internment camp victims.
Meanwhile, the Assembly chose Lawyer Kamilah Moore and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) as their picks, with the Senate choosing San Diego City Councilwoman and civil rights lawyer Monica Montgomery Steppe and Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena).
During the initial task force meeting on Tuesday, lawmakers reiterated why the Task Force was there and noted that they hoped to help heal racial injustice.
“You’re here today not just to sit and answer to say was there harm, but your task is to determine the depth of the harm and the ways in which we are to repair that harm,” said Secretary of State Weber. “There has been enough research for the fact that slavery still has an impact today.”
Governor Newsom also made spoke, remarking, “As our country reckons with our painful legacy of racial injustice, California again is poised to lead the way towards a more equitable and inclusive future for all.”
While not much in terms of recommendations were discussed on Tuesday, the Task Force did get many procedural needs out of the way, including choosing Kamilah Moore to chair the task force.
Task Force to give final recommendations in 2023
Many legal experts noted that, despite the Task Force moving ahead without a hitch on Tuesday, that their overall recommendations could be bogged down in legal trouble for years, or even decades, to come.
“It’s good that so many lawyers are on the Task Force, because they are going to need them,” explained legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Tuesday. “I told you last time that this will be a legal minefield, and they pretty much just confirmed it will be today.”
“Slavery ended so long ago in the 1860’s, with California itself being a free state, so any historical basis is DOA right there. But getting past that, any cash compensation or other compensation forms, like paid college or housing allowances or something, cannot be broken up evenly.”
“It’s not like Japanese internment reparations. We knew each and every one of them and sent out $20,000 checks, made those places into museums and generally made the public more aware of that happening. And if you recall, many Democrats were actually on the fence about that at the time because they were permanently damaging FDR’s reputation while doing it.”
“But this, this is very different. We’re talking about descendants and long term racial injustice stemming from slavery. There are so many variables here on who gets what, especially when you take into account people of African descent moving into the US into the 1870’s on and people of multiple races and actually confirming people that they deserve reparations. A lot of scammers could get in on this.”
“I don’t think this Task Force has any idea what their recommendations will actually do.”
An initial report is due to the Legislature by June 1, 2022, with a second, final report due sometime in 2023. After that, the Legislature would need to create another bill for making the recommendations into law.
The Task Force will meet at least 9 more times in the next 2 years to create the recommendations.