On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill to set up a task force that could recommend slavery reparations for African-Americans in California.
AB 3121 signed by Newsom
Assembly Bill 3121, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), would establish the “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.” The task force would document and look into issues surrounding slavery in California, including denying free and runaway blacks into the state pre-1865, as well as issues recommendations into what, if any, reparations would be given. The task force, comprised of 9 members selected by the Governor, Assembly, and Senate, would also set parameters on who would be eligible for possible reparations and how reparations, most likely cash, would be distributed.
Assemblywoman Weber wrote the bill earlier this year as a way to “right the wrongs of the past” and to to help fix the post-1865 racial injustice caused by the institution of slavery such as housing discrimination and fewer opportunities stemming from racism. While AB 3121 was seen as unlikely to be passed earlier this year, a large wave of racial justice support coming in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests fueled the bill to be passed in both the Assembly and Senate last month.
Opposition, support for AB 3121
AB 3121 faced a fair amount of opposition during the summer, with a dozen Assembly members even voting against the bill on the Assembly floor. Many argued that California was a free state during the Civil War, but supporters argued back that the reparations would target those hurt by the effects of slavery from over 150 years ago.
“California was nominally a ‘free state,’ but in practice we allowed slavery within our borders even after statehood, while runaway slaves were often denied sanctuary by the courts,” stated Assemblywoman Weber in a statement earlier this year. “After emancipation, California and local municipalities allowed or even actively pursued discriminatory practices akin to those found in the South to deny former slaves and their descendants access to housing, quality education, employment, fair wages, voting rights and the practice of professions.”
“California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery. We’re talking about really addressing the issues of justice and fairness in this country that we have to address.”
These reasons, as well as Newsom’s belief to further acknowledge governmental system flaws that hurt minorities, led to the Governor signing the bill Wednesday afternoon.
“CA just became the first state in the nation to mandate the study and development of proposals for reparations,” said Newsom in a Tweet. “Our past is one of slavery, racism, and injustice. Our systems were built to oppress people of color. It’s past time we acknowledge that.”
CA just became the first state in the nation to mandate the study and development of proposals for reparations.
Our past is one of slavery, racism, and injustice. Our systems were built to oppress people of color.
It’s past time we acknowledge that. https://t.co/sY8UWffqzt
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 30, 2020
Despite being signed into law, reparations legislation faces numerous legal, political issues that may bar implementation
While now law with a task force to be assigned next year, those who opposed the bill have said that reparations themselves are still unlikely to happen.
“I called this a ‘potential legal minefield‘ before,” legal adviser Richard Weaver told the Globe. “And that is still the case.
“First of all, the task force needs to come into agreement about reparations, and who knows what that will be. And that’s all it will be – a recommendation. It still needs state approval, and that’s where things will get very, very tricky.”
“They need to decide who is eligible. African-Americans? People half-black? Quarter-black? What about Africans who moved here when there wasn’t slavery? Are they covered? What about people who just moved here? Do they get a check simply because of their race? Will it cover people who lived here for five years? Ten years? And what about people who left. Do former black Californians in New York or wherever get a check after the fact?”
“No solution to this will make a lot of people happy, so if this goes before the Senate or Assembly, this can be fought over for a long time. And that’s just one issue with it. There’s the amount, if it’s cash, if it’s other factors like public housing preference. If it’s slavery-based, it could automatically be invalidated at a federal level because no one who was a slave is alive anymore.”
“And if it is legally challenged, this has the potential to go to the Supreme Court, which is just now taking a hard turn into a greater number of right-leaning judges.”
“People are celebrating its passage today. But when the recommendations are made and it comes time to decide, I can’t even count all the highly probable ways it can be shot down.”
If reparations are given and passed by the state, they would become the first large-scale reparations in the country since reparations were given to interned Japanese-Americans in the late 1980’s.
The reparations task force is expected to be formed early next year.