By Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER Staff Writer
The state of California made history when its new task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans met earlier this week.
Created as a result of Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, the task force is a first-in-the-nation effort by a state government to take an expansive look at the institution of slavery and its present-day effects on the lives of Black Americans.
Those in attendance either online or in person included Gov. Gavin Newsom, Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber and Attorney General Rob Bonta. The formation of the task force was made possible by the governor’s signing of AB 3121, authored by then-Assemblymember Weber (D-San Diego).
The members are tasked with informing Californians about slavery and exploring ways the state might provide reparations. No compensation scenarios have yet been offered, but nine more meetings are scheduled over the next two years.
The first virtual gathering lasted six hours and included the swearing-in ceremony and professional introduction of all nine members of the task force.
An overview of AB 3121, expert testimony, logistians and public comment were a part of the agenda. The members also voted to appoint Kamilah V. Moore their chairperson. Amos C. Brown will serve as vice chairperson.
Moore, who studied the links between international law and reparatory justice for descendants of chattel slavery at Columbia Law School, said she wants to make certain that making amends for slavery is legally right and just.
Moore, 29, a 2014 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) graduate, was admitted to the California State Bar in January. Her area of expertise is intellectual property.
“I’m looking forward to ensuring that any reparations package that the task force develops fully comports with international law, which mandates reparations come in the form of compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition,” said Moore.
Brown, 80, of San Francisco, is a renowned civil rights leader who studied under Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was arrested with Dr. King at a lunch counter sit-in in 1961 and joined the Freedom Riders who protested segregation in the South.
Brown is the pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of the city’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), State Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, Dr. Cheryl Grills, Lisa Holder, Donald Tamaki and Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis round out the nine-member task force.
The individuals selected by the governor to serve on the task force represent diverse backgrounds and meet the statutes required by law. The task force includes a member from the field of academia with expertise in civil rights.
Also, an additional two appointees were selected from major civil society and reparations organizations that historically have championed the cause of reparatory justice.
Other key factors considered for committee candidates included a background in economics and community development, health and psychology, law and criminal justice, faith-based and community activism, and an expertise in the historic achievement of reparatory justice.
While representing Assembly District 79, Dr. Weber authored AB 3121, which charges the task force with recommending, “among other things, the form of compensation that should be awarded, the instrumentalities through which it should be awarded, and who should be eligible for this compensation,” as it is stated in the legislation’s agenda.
“You’re here today not just to sit and answer to say was there harm, but your task is to determine the depth of the harm and the ways in which we are to repair that harm,” Dr. Weber said. “There has been enough research for the fact that slavery still has an impact today.”
In America’s history, reparations for injustices have occasionally been settled. Native Americans have been provided land in the United States and billions of dollars for being robbed of their soil.
Japanese Americans received billions and some of their property was returned for being placed in incarceration camps during World War II. This faction of Asian Americans suffered through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The United States made amends through the Marshall Plan, to helped Jewish people obtain compensation for the Holocaust. The plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, was enacted in 1948 and paid out more than $15 billion to help the continent rebuild.
Within the last 20 years, survivors and family members of families affected by the attacks of 9/11 have been compensated with billions of dollars.
The first signs of slavery in America surfaced in 1619 in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Black people were forced to provide free labor for 250 years before the 13th Amendment was passed.
“My ancestors, who survived so much trauma, so much pain, so much tragedy, so much brutality, so that I could live,” said Holder, a task force member and a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles. “And I am ready to fight to deliver them … our ancestors … justice.”
With nine more meetings on the docket within the next two years, the task force must submit a detailed report to lawmakers by June 2022.
After the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, the notion to provide “40 acres and a mule” to the former enslaved was the first salvo of reparations.
Nearly 160 years later there is still no acre nor mule and state lawmakers have kept a scoreboard of Black people’s difficulties in the country since their ancestors were brought here in chains.
“We have lost more than we have ever taken from this country,” said Sen. Steven Bradford. “We have given more than has ever been given to us.”