The black reparations committee could decide who will receive compensation

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By Janie Har,
The Associated Press News

California’s first reparations task force is at a crossroads, with members divided on which black Americans should be eligible. Compensation as atonement for a slave system that officially ended with the Civil War has long been a source of contention that reverberates to this day.

Some members want to limit financial and other compensation to descendants of slaves while others say all black people in the United States, regardless of lineage, suffer from systemic racism in housing, education and employment. .

Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating the two-year reparations task force in 2020, making California the only state to move forward with a study and plan. This includes a mission to study the institution of slavery and its evils and to educate the public about its findings.

The committee is not even a year into its two-year process and there is no compensation plan of any kind on the table. But there is broad consensus among advocates for the need for multi-faceted remedies for related but distinct harms, such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration and redevelopment that have displaced communities. black.

Compensation could include free college education, help buying homes and starting businesses, and grants to churches and community organizations, the advocates said.

Yet the question of eligibility has obsessed the group since its inaugural meeting in June, when viewers called on the nine-member group to devise targeted proposals and cash payouts to return the descendants of enslaved people whole. United States.

Kamilah Moore, chair of the committee, said she expects a lively discussion at the meeting, which will include testimony from genealogists. She favors eligibility based on lineage over race, saying she will have the best chance of surviving a legal challenge in a conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

A race-based reparations plan would attract “hyper-aggressive challenges that could have very negative implications for other states seeking to do something similar, or even for the federal government,” she said. “Everyone is watching what we’re going to do.”

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who drafted the legislation creating the task force, had argued passionately in January to prioritize the descendants of generations of forced labor, broken family ties and police terrorism. The daughter of sharecroppers forced to flee Arkansas in the middle of the night, she recalled how the legacy of slavery shattered her family and stunted their ability to dream of anything beyond survival.

Opening compensation to black immigrants or even descendants of slaves from other countries would leave American descendants with mere pennies, she said.

But members at the February meeting – almost all of whom can trace their families back to slave ancestors – questioned the need to rush into a crucial issue meant to shape reparations deliberations across the country.

Task Force member Lisa Holder shared a harrowing story of losing her child in childbirth because medical staff failed to take seriously the concerns of a young black woman who knew something was wrong. was wrong with her baby, she said. In the United States, black mothers are much more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women.

“No one asked me if my ancestors were enslaved in the United States or if they were enslaved in Jamaica or if they were enslaved in Barbados,” said Holder, a civil rights attorney. . “We have to embrace this concept that black lives matter, not just some part of those black lives, because black lives are in danger, especially today.”

Critics say California has no obligation to pay given that the state did not practice slavery and did not enforce Jim Crow laws that separated blacks from whites in southern states.

But testimony provided to the committee shows that California and local governments have been complicit in depriving black people of their wages and property, preventing them from creating wealth to pass on to their children. Their homes were razed for redevelopment, and they were forced to live in majority minority neighborhoods and were unable to obtain bank loans that would enable them to purchase the property.

Today, black residents make up 5% of the state’s population, but are overrepresented in jails, jails, and homelessness. And black homeowners continue to face discrimination in the form of home valuations that are significantly lower than if the home was in a white neighborhood or if the homeowners were white, according to reports.

Nkechi Taifa, director of the Repair Education Project, is among longtime advocates who are pleased that the discussion has become widespread. But she is baffled by the idea of ​​limiting reparations to people who can show their lineage when ancestry is not easy to document and slave owners frequently moved people between plantations in the United States, in the Caribbean and South America.

“I guess I tend to be more inclusive rather than exclusive,” she said, “and maybe it’s a fear of limitation, that there’s not enough money for everyone.”

California Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a member of the task force, said there was no doubt the descendants of slaves were the priority, but he said the task force also needed to put end the current damage and prevent the future damage of racism.

“It’s in the system, it’s in our laws. It’s in the way we treat each other, it’s the way we talk to each other,” he said. “And no amount of money will make that go away.”

A report is expected by June with a reparations proposal expected by July 2023 for the legislature to consider turning into law.

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