California Lawmakers Propose Reparations, but Not Cash Payments

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who represents South Central, was on the task force that studied the legacy of slavery on the state’s roughly 2.5 million Black residents.

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off social justice protests and a racial reckoning in the summer of 2020, California created a task force to look into the issue of reparations.

A nine-member panel conducted research on the harm done to the state’s roughly 2.5 million Black residents by systemic racism and the legacy of slavery. Though California joined the union as a free state, Black people were still enslaved here, and experts say that discriminatory housing, voting and criminal justice policies hampered the ability of Black Californians to accumulate wealth for generations.

The task force released a more than 1,000-page report with its findings, including ways that California lawmakers could address past wrongs. It recommended more than 100 policy changes in education, housing and other areas; a formal apology from the state to Black residents; and, most notably, billions of dollars in direct cash payments.

Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times

Lawmakers are now acting on some of that guidance. More than a dozen proposals have been introduced since January as part of a reparations legislative package. But none of the proposals are for direct cash payments.

Kamilah Moore, a scholar and lawyer and the chair of the California task force, called that omission “unfortunate.” The task force recommended payments totaling as much as $800 billion to Californians who are descendants of enslaved African Americans or free Black people who lived in the United States before the end of the 19th century.

Moore said the payments would not be a gift; they would be compensation for decades of lost property, wealth and opportunities.

“We’re not recommending the state give money to Black folks,” she said. “We’re recommending the state return monies dispossessed, stolen from the descendants of slaves in California due to the state’s own actions.”

The bills in the reparations package are wide-ranging. Some focus on reforming prison conditions, including by limiting solitary confinement, forced labor and banned books. One proposal seeks to loosen California’s prohibition on affirmative action. Another would require that people from historically redlined communities be given priority for certain educational grants, and another would establish a fund to help reduce violence in Black communities.

Lawmakers said the state was grappling with a budget deficit this year and that the initial proposals were only the first in a multiyear effort to right the wrongs of slavery and discrimination.

“While many only associate direct cash payments with reparations, the true meaning of the word, to repair, involves much more,” Assemblywoman Lori Wilson, chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement.

Moore pointed out that some proposals by state Sen. Steven Bradford, who was on the task force, might lead indirectly to cash payouts for some Black Californians. One would compensate families whose property was seized through eminent domain as a result of discrimination. Another would create a housing grant program for descendants of enslaved people, and a third would set aside money for possible future reparations payments.

Lawmakers have until Aug. 31 to pass these newly introduced proposals.

Moore said she thought it was just a matter of time before legislators moved forward with the direct cash payments recommended by the task force. The state’s responsibilities, she said, do not disappear because its fiscal position is poor.

“I think it will happen — it’ll just happen down the road,” she said. “Grassroots activists are never going to stop fighting for it.”

c.2024 The New York Times Company