California reparations task force starts to tackle specifics

If California is to compensate black residents whose families have been harmed by slavery and its enduring economic impact, how should the program be structured?

Should reparations be paid in cash to individuals? Or should they come into black communities in other forms of government support? What legal challenges are there?

These questions and many others were the subject of a two-day hearing by California’s Reparations Task Force, a nationwide first body formed in 2020 to develop proposals for possible reparations for black families – who have been harmed for generations by enslavement, segregation, redlining and others racist government policies and laws.

Many questions about the logistics of a government reparations program remain unanswered.

A spectator stands and speaks into a microphone while others listen.

Christian Flagg, 33, of Los Angeles, shares his thoughts during the California Reparations Task Force meeting Friday at the California Science Center.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

But Friday and Saturday’s panel discussions at the California Science Center in south Los Angeles highlighted the nine-person panel’s arduous task: to create a program that could profoundly impact the lives and socioeconomic fortunes of hundreds of thousands of people, if not more.

Amos Brown, the panel’s deputy chair and a longtime civil rights activist, said the process boils down to three “A’s” — an admission of past troubles; atonement for them by identifying appropriate reparations; and to act on that information in a consistent manner to ensure that state legislators who would complete a program go through with it and get the job done.

“That means getting all sectors of the African American community and our allies to start respectfully, peacefully and sanely and matter-of-factly asking them to support reparations in this state,” Brown said.

At the end of Saturday’s session, the panel decided on certain factors in the lives of black residents that could warrant monetary compensation.

These factors include the government’s unjust appropriation of property by eminent domain; the devaluation of black businesses; disproportionate incarceration and excessive policing in black communities; and discrimination in housing, healthcare and education.

In each of these areas, the panel noted that it must make additional decisions about the timeframe within which such damages should be considered and who should be compensated — including whether recipients should be limited to California residents.

Members of the public at a meeting, one holding a sign reading, "world leader! Reparations for slavery now!"

Walter Foster, 80, of Los Angeles, raises a sign calling for a focus on monetary compensation as the California Reparations Task Force makes a public statement Friday.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

The panel also identified factors for which financial compensation may not be calculated but which still need to be addressed, including political disenfranchisement; the pathologization of black families by the authorities; the wresting of control over Black creative, cultural and intellectual life by others in society; and the wealth gap between blacks and others.

The panel said it must also decide how the state should apologize.

The discussions follow a report in June in which the panel defined what it considered harm to African Americans from the days of slavery to the present day and outlined tentative recommendations for providing reparations.

The panel is working on a second report, due in June, which is expected to submit a detailed plan to the state Legislature.

The task force heard from experts on other reparations movements throughout history, including those for Holocaust victims in Germany, apartheid victims in South Africa, and Japanese-American victims in the United States whose families were robbed of their assets and imprisoned in prison camps during World War II became .

The panel also heard from members of the public — including some who criticized the task force’s decision in March to narrow its focus on reparations for descendants of enslaved African Americans and free blacks who lived in the country before the late 19th century.

Eight people sit with microphones and place cards at tables arranged in a U-shape

Jovan Lewis, foreground, and other members of the California Reparations Task Force listen to public comment at Friday’s meeting.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

These critics argued that all black Californians, including more recent immigrants, were affected by the legacy of slavery and other racist policies and also deserved reparations.

Others defended the borders, saying descendants of the enslaved suffered in special ways that other black Americans, including more recent immigrants and their children, did not.

Several panelists expressed hope that the panel could hear more from the public at future meetings – including personal stories from individuals and families.

The next meetings of the panel are scheduled for December 14th and 15th. California reparations task force starts to tackle specifics

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