By Larry Lee | Publisher, The Sacramento OBSERVER
Noun: The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged: “the courts required a convicted offender to make financial reparation to his victim.”
Let’s start here: the systems of this nation were built — and have been maintained — by a faulty premise. Our political, financial, educational, criminal justice, and health care systems (to name a few) were structured from the lens of white male supremacy and have been sustained by stealing, lying, cheating, assaulting, intimidating, kidnapping, and even murder.
Those on the side of building and maintaining these systems have benefitted, whether directly or indirectly, for generations. African Americans, however, have been victims of these systems all while trying to survive and put faith in them as their American counterparts have.
The failings of these systems have categorically destroyed Black descendants of enslaved people for generations. The late Detroit Congressman John Conyers had been trying for 32 years to get Congress to pass a slavery reparations bill, but now the movement toward reparations for Black people is becoming more real every day.
To be crystal clear, reparations for Black people is arguably the most important issue of our time, and no one deserves reparations like Black people in America. That’s why there is no piece of legislative work that is more important to the collective nation than that of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans.
California is the first state in the nation to deeply examine if and how reparations could be administered to Black descendants of enslaved people.
Under the leadership of California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber, the nine-member Task Force was established to meet the requirements of Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, which Weber authored and introduced in 2020 when she served in the California Legislature. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law in September 2020. The committee first met in June 2021.
This is a Herculean task as there are so many aspects needed to establish to make a case for reparations. According to Kamilah V. Moore, chair of the California reparations task force, the group is following the international guidelines provided by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. The recommendations based on the United Nations Charter offer basic protocols on reparations for victims of gross violations of international human rights law.
However, the violations need to be acknowledged by the UN and other actors on the global stage. Unfortunately, the transatlantic slave trade is yet to be acknowledged as a gross violation of international human rights law. Consequently, the United States is not obligated to compensate African Americans, Moore points out.
International human rights law states that reparations must be administered in five forms: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition.
In 2021, Gov. Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 796, authored by California Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). SB 796 authorized the County of Los Angeles to return the beachfront property known as Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family after it had been wrongfully taken by Manhattan Beach city officials.
Over the last year, the Task Force has heard similar testimony from scores of people, including members of the Burgess family whose Northern California land was “Whitecapped,” a lawless action to run African Americans out of town and steal their possessions. It was done by homegrown racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Night Riders, and Bald Knobbers.
While this work is being done in California, its results will reverberate throughout the nation. This Task Force is meticulously laying the groundwork for others to follow. Others around the country have also begun to examine this issue closely. The progressive college town of Evanston, Illinois, has already created a $400,000 fund paid for by cannabis taxes that will be broken into $25,000 housing grants supporting home loans and renovations.
Those who can apply include Black residents of Evanston between 1919 and 1969, when fair housing became federal law, and their descendants. In June 2021, 12 mayors from cities across the country, led by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, launched Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity (MORE). They pledged to start paying reparations to Black residents in their cities.
Of course, reparations are not foreign to the United States. Native Americans have received land and billions of dollars for various benefits and programs for being forcibly exiled from their native lands. For Japanese Americans, $1.5 billion was paid to those who were interned during World War II. Additionally, the United States, via the Marshall Plan, helped to ensure that Jews received reparations for the Holocaust.
Black Americans are the only group that has not received reparations for state-sanctioned racial discrimination.
Opponents of reparations often say that no one living should be held accountable for the acts of early-American enslavers. However, there were about 350 years between U.S. slavery and the end of Jim Crow — there have only been about 60 years since then. This is modern history. In order for this nation to be the country it can be, it must right the wrongs of what it has been. Reparations are not just important for Black people. It is important for all Americans.