After two years of internal discussions, public hearings, and collaboration with stakeholders, California’s reparations task force presented its final report of recommendations to the Legislature June 29.
(L-R) State Sen. Steven Bradford, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, task force member Lisa Holder, and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer hold up a final report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans during a hearing in Sacramento on June 29, 2023. The report heads to lawmakers who will be responsible for turning policy recommendations into legislation. Reparations will not happen until lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom agree. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)
The 1,100-page, 4-inch document discusses policy recommendations for the Legislature to consider, and while no specific dollar amounts are proposed, formulas for calculating harms and repairs are included as guidance for lawmakers.
The report lists five time frames to be considered for reparations dating from 1850 to the present for various harms, including unjust property takings, devaluation of black businesses, housing discrimination, mass incarceration and over-policing, and health-related issues.
“Our descendants will be able to consult this great document and see the evidence that this state has committed crimes against black folks,” said Amos Brown, vice chair of the committee and a member of the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), during the meeting.
“It’s time they paid their crime bill.”
Reverend Amos Brown, the vice-chair of the reparations task force, president of the San Francisco Chapter of the NAACP, and longtime pastor of the Third Baptist Church sits for a portrait inside the sanctuary of the church, in San Francisco on June 27, 2023. (Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images)
Established with the passing of Assembly Bill 3121 in May 2021, the task force is composed of nine members, with five appointed by the governor, two by the President pro-Tempore of the Senate, and two by the Speaker of the Assembly. The panel was tasked with studying the impacts of slavery and providing recommendations for reparations to the governor and legislative branches for review.
Payments recommended by the task force are estimated at up to $1.2 million per eligible individual, and some economists calculated the cost to the state at approximately $800 billion if the recommendations are enacted as proposed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has remained quiet on the topic of cash payment, saying that “reparations are about more than money” in a recent interview with Fox News, and he stressed repeatedly in a May budget press conference that prudence is required by the state during times of economic uncertainty.
Some on the panel are anticipating pushback from the governor and legislators regarding such concerns.
“Don’t come telling us that you don’t have the money,” said Brown, the vice chair.
“From where I come from in Mississippi, they had what you call a layaway plan. And if you can’t pay it because of deficits, deficits don’t last always.”
The state is currently facing a $32 billion budget deficit, which its Legislative Analyst’s Office has said could grow significantly in the event of a recession—which economists suggest is likely to occur later this year.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces the May budget revision in Sacramento on May 12, 2023. Newsom said the state’s budget deficit has grown to nearly $32 billion, about $10 billion more than predicted in January when the governor offered his first budget proposal. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
With a $311 billion spending package set for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the recommended reparation payments represent more than two and a half times the state’s annual budget.
Support for the task force at other public hearings and today’s—with elated members of the audience erupting into boisterous applause and impromptu singing on occasion—has been broad and virtually unanimous, but a recent poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, an independent, nonprofit research institution based in San Francisco, suggests that sentiment across the state is divided, with only 43 percent saying they approve of the task force recommendations such as reparations.
Legislators will now be tasked with reviewing the information, and if deemed applicable, to create a package of bills to address the recommendations.
“The final report is not the end of the work. It’s really just the beginning,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) told the audience.
“It is now up to the Legislature, which I’m part of, and the governor, to implement it.”
Observing that critics of the proposals note that California was never a slave state and should therefore not be subject to reparations payments, the senator said that other aspects of history need to be considered.
“It was not a slave state in name only. Not in practice, not in deeds,” Bradford said.
“The first governor of this state-owned slaves and was proud of it. We had a fugitive slave law that returned slaves,” after they fled from other states.
People listen to the California reparations task force, a nine-member committee studying restitution proposals for African Americans, at a meeting at Lesser Hall in Mills College at Northeastern University in Oakland, Calif., on May 6, 2023. (Sophie Austin/AP Photo)
Talking directly to critics that say they should not have to pay for acts committed centuries ago, he questioned their perspective.
“If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt,” Bradford said.
“And this is a debt that is owed.”
Fellow lawmaker and task force member Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) echoed his colleague’s commitment to seeing the recommendations transformed into legislative action.
“Next year we will move with legislative and budget ideas to make it happen,” he said in his final remarks on the report.
Don Tamaki, a task force member and attorney, recognized the thousands of hours of commitment from the Department of Justice and staff that assisted in producing the voluminous document.
“The amount of research and writing that went into this is breathtaking,” he said during the hearing. “This is going to resonate nationally.”
A Reparations Task Force meeting is held online in California on Sept. 23, 2021. (Screenshot via California Reparations Task Force)
Speakers repeatedly thanked California Secretary of State Shirley Weber—who authored the bill in 2020 that led to the task force’s creation when she was an Assemblywoman—for her vision, and Vice Chair Brown personally presented her with a copy of the report.
“There’s tremendous wealth in this,” she told the crowd upon receiving her copy of the final report.
“I am so pleased with the document because it answers every question.”
Weber’s daughter, Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego)—now occupying her mother’s former seat—spoke about the honor she felt at representing the people in attendance, while making one of many comments throughout the day about the encyclopedic size of the report.
“It is long because the harms are long,” she told the crowd at the hearing.
“But this report is phenomenal.”
While an electronic version is available online, one committee member suggested sending a hard copy of the recommendations to all lawmakers, saying its physical presence is impactful.
“I suggest we buy a copy for every member of the Legislature,” said Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles).
“California needs to feel that weight. It weighs a pound of flesh. It weighs 400 years.”
The state’s Attorney General Rob Bonta was on hand to receive his copy of the final report, and he assured the task force and audience that his staff will continue to work toward achieving the goals outlined in the recommendations.
“Reparations are warranted, they are necessary, and they are needed,” he said. “Reparations are our way forward. Solutions must be thoughtful, meaningful, and enduring.”
Recognizing the unprecedented nature of the proposals, Bonta said he hoped that the work of the task force will lead to a nationwide discussion.
“California doing what we so often do,” he told the audience.
“Being first, being bold, being courageous, and bringing solutions to complicated problems.”
The California state capitol building in Sacramento on March 11, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Members of the state’s legislative Black Caucus spoke about their intention to work together with fellow lawmakers to craft bills that can successfully navigate the Legislature.
“We can and must act on these recommendations,” Assemblywoman Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood) said during the hearing.
“The future of our nation depends on us.”
With some pointing to the price tag as an obstacle to progress for reparations payments, proponents say that with one-half of one percent set aside from the annual budget, it could make fiscal sense, though critics have questioned the mathematical possibility of such a plan.
“Let’s be clear and honest. The cost of reparations will be high, but make no mistake, the harms that are done are just as high,” said Bradford, the task force member and senator. “No one asks how we pay for high-speed rail, which many in the Legislature say is a train to nowhere.”