Task Force Meets on Reparations
By Dianne Anderson
Unfinished business set the benchmark last week for California leaders with a plan to help the Black community emerge from the ruins of centuries of enslavement, exploitation and oppression.
Even though California is considered a free state, Secretary of State Shirley Weber said the development of African Americans has been historically hindered, and the state has both encouraged and profited from slavery.
“No one denies the fact that slavery was very harmful, not only slavery, but post-slavery activities that took place, whether economic, redlining or vicious attacks on people’s lives, whether stealing of people’s properties, poor schools, poor resources put into communities that had a tendency to make any progress somehow minimized,” she said.
Weber said she authored AB3121 to establish the Reparations Task Force because Congress has lagged for decades, doing nothing to address the inequity.
The task force, the first effort of its kind in the state and nation, will issue final recommendations by July 1.
The goal is for the legislature to assemble a statewide organization to implement recommendations with across the board expertise, community people, in areas of housing, and quality education for children. Also, access to universities, similar to how Native Americans access free education.
“It should not be willy-nilly, just one thing and move on,” she said. “It really has to be much greater than that because we don’t have anyone thus far that we can identify in the United States who has spent 400 years in this oppressive environment where we have had things taken from us. Laws have been written against us. People have been lynched and burned and a host of things.”
Education and economic development are integral to the process, dealing with historic redlining, purchase of housing, accessing business loans and support for Black businesses. She addressed countless stories of Blacks who had their property stolen.
“If they had just been able to maintain that and not have the intervention of the federal government into the business, Black people would own Downtown L.A.,” she said, adding, “They basically took away an awful lot of things that were fundamental to the development of Black people in California.”
State Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, also on the task force, commended the work of his peers, and the report from last June starts the discussion that other cities, counties and states should follow, ideally leading to national reparations and laws around reparations.
The report explores the magnitude of oppression from initial enslavement to property issues, Klan racial terror, and historic maneuvers that have kept Blacks from reaching their full potential.
He said that unequal access to the ballot compared to whites was one part of disenfranchisement up to the 1960s. Housing segregation forced African Americans to live in neighborhoods with few amenities. Separate and unequal education ensured Blacks were kept from educational resources in one of the wealthiest economies in the world.
And, at the root of deep racism is the Black and white wealth gap, the unjust prison system, environmental impacts and stolen labor.
“[We] are coming to the point where we condensed what we believe will help to reverse all of that, as people keep talking about reparations in the form of financial compensation,” he said, adding the impact could be reversed generationally and nationally.
One solution is access to higher education without being hobbled with debt, he said. Another is capital to buy property because Blacks were historically denied, preventing land ownership and acquisition of wealth.
Experts extensively researched land stolen from African Americans in what is now some of the wealthiest areas of California. He said people came from all around, from the Bay Area and Manhattan Beach, to discuss stolen land.
“Just that piece alone that opened our eyes to things we never thought about,” he said. “We looked from a professional, academic standpoint, and making sure we verified our facts. The fact-checking that went into this from the Department of Justice was impeccable,” he said.
Attorney Don Tamaki said the study is of fundamental justice, and the reparations movement rises from his community. He was on the legal team to reopen the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States, leading to reparations for the Japanese concentration camps.
He said it’s one of the few times the government admitted wrongdoing with financial atonement.
“That said, there is no equivalence between four years in a concentration camp and 400 years of exclusionary policies and enslavement and everything else, but there are some lessons to be learned,” said Tamaki, J.D., a California Reparations Task Force member.
The interim study connects the dots on enslavement, Jim Crow, and the compounded impact of decades of exclusion and that redlining goes back to the 1930s in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and became normalized.
“If you align the pre-gentrification maps of the most underserved impoverished neighborhoods, they align exactly, meaning the fact that we have hyper-segregated under-served impoverished neighborhoods in the most polluted areas is not a surprise when you think of it,” he said.
He said it scratches the surface of a racial hierarchy norm that values white lives above all others, and Black and Native American at the bottom, with everyone else in between.
“I do agree with Assemblyman Sawyer, if you can solve for Black people, it shines the light on everything else and it’s long overdue. I can tell you other people of color, Asian Americans and other groups are very interested in this movement and supporting it for that reason,” he said.
Tamaki also referenced health impacts, that Black people die younger, that Black women suffer three to five times the complications in pregnancy than whites, and the need for more Black providers. But especially getting funding into communities to stop continuing the harm.
California was complicit in the institution of enslavement and actively participated in the exclusion that followed, he said, but he also feels the upcoming recommendations in three months are only the beginning.
“Leaders now are shining light on a problem that congress hasn’t had the will to study let alone do anything about, and that is a huge contribution not only to California, but the rest of the country,” he said. “I believe something very historic is going on and I believe it will have a reverberating impact across the nation.”
To see the Interim Report, California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans http://bit.ly/3Zm6SdD