California lawmakers are setting up a task force to study and make recommendations for reparations to African Americans, particularly the descendants of slaves, as the nation struggles again with civil rights and unrest following the latest shooting of a Black man by police.
The state Senate supported creating the nine-member commission on a bipartisan 33-3 vote Saturday. The measure returns to the Assembly for a final vote before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Monday, though Assembly members overwhelmingly already approved an earlier version of the bill.
“Let's be clear: Chattel slavery, both in California and across our nation, birthed a legacy of racial harm and inequity that continues to impact the conditions of Black life in California,” said Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles.
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She cited disproportionate homelessness, unemployment, involvement in the criminal justice system, lower academic performance and higher health risks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Although California before the Civil War was officially a free state, Mitchell listed legal and judicial steps state officials took at the time to support slavery in Southern states while repressing Blacks.
The legislation would require the task force to conduct a detailed study of the impact of slavery in California and recommend to the Legislature by July 2023 the form of compensation that should be awarded, how it should be awarded, and who should be should be eligible for compensation.
The panel, which would start meeting no later than June 2021, could also recommend other forms of rehabilitation or redress.
In the last two years, Texas, New York, and Vermont have considered similar legislation, according to a legislative analysis. It said reparations could take the form of cash, housing assistance, lower tuition, forgiving student loans, job training or community investments, for instance.
Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena who supported the bill, said he only wished it was more than a study.
He noted that Friday marked the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“If the 40 acres and a mule that was promised to free slaves were delivered to the descendants of those slaves today, we would all be billionaires,” Bradford said. “I hear far too many people say, ‘Well, I didn’t own slaves, that was so long ago.' Well, you inherit wealth — you can inherit the debt that you owe to African-Americans."
The bill is AB3121.