Parallel Reparations Efforts In California and Capitol Hill

As California prepares to release a report that will recommend reparations for descendants of enslaved people, federal lawmakers are pursuing their own efforts to redress the effects of slavery and the generations of discrimination that followed for Black Americans, NBC News reported. 

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., introduced the latest federal effort to support reparations last month with H.R. 414, the Reparation Now Resolution, which seeks to advance reparations at the federal state and local levels. 

Bush said the country has “a moral and legal obligation” to repair the “lasting harm” caused by the enslavement of millions of Africans, and by practices such as segregation and redlining on subsequent generations. The resolution indicates that a minimum of $14 trillion would be necessary to close the racial wealth gap and other inequities. 

This resolution comes as California reparations task force, established in 2020 to study and develop proposals, wraps up its work. Following a 500-page interim report last year, the group has held multiple public hearings, and will release its final report by July 1. 

“I have, for the better part of two years, stated that reparations is more than just a check,” California Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a task force member, said in a statement. “It is about removing institutional barriers in the form of laws that have and continue to marginalize Black communities in California.”

State lawmakers will then need to propose policies as bills in the Legislature.

Members of the California task force, for their part, have said they want the report to have national impact.

“This will be the model for everyone, whether they do it at the local level, state level or when they finally do national reparations,” Jones-Sawyer told NBC News in March. “This will be used by others,” he added. “And the reason ours will hold up is because the foundation of it is based on data, hard core data, suitable data.”

In 2020, the state of California formed a reparations task force to examine the case for offering payment for what has been called America’s original sin of slavery, BBC reported.

In March of this year, it approved a plan to give reparations to African Americans in California who can prove they are direct descendants of enslaved people.

On Wednesday, 1 June, the task force released a 500-page report detailing how it says the legacy of slavery has affected black Americans in the state laying out the case for payments. According to the report, the Ku Klux Klan permeated many California police departments and residential segregation caused black Americans to live in more polluted areas than white Americans, among other issues detailed in the report.

It will then deliver a reparations proposal in July 2023 for the California government to consider turning it into law.

Kenyatta Berry, professional genealogist and host of PBS program Genealogy Roadshow, says the process to prove direct ancestry can be “arduous and quite emotional” as it can take years to find your enslaved ancestors. 

The alternative to a lineage-based approach would be to provide compensations to all black people in California. During the task force’s hearing, some argued that excluding any black Californians would cause fissures within the black community. Lisa Holder, a civil rights attorney and task force member, argued against a lineage-based approach.

Oregon Live reported that the Reparations Task Force’s final report, due to the state Legislature by July 1, will act as a guide for lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will determine if the harms of slavery and lasting discrimination are worthy of reparations.

The current task force report offers reparations only to Californians who are descendants of enslaved Americans and calculates their monetary losses in three categories of community harms: health disparities, African American mass incarceration and over-policing, and housing discrimination.

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