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California reparations task force starts to dig in on specifics

A woman pictured from the shoulders up speaking into one of several microphones at a table as a man sits nearby
Kamilah Moore, chair of the California Reparations Task Force, speaks Friday at a Los Angeles meeting seeking public input on the work of compensating Black residents whose families suffered from slavery.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

If California is to make reparations to Black residents whose families have been harmed by slavery and its ongoing economic repercussions, how should the program be structured?

Should reparations be given as cash payments to individuals? Or should they come in other forms of government assistance in Black communities? What legal challenges exist?

These and many other questions were the subject of a two-day hearing by California’s Reparations Task Force, a first-in-the-nation panel established in 2020 to develop proposals for potential reparations for Black families — who have been harmed for generations by enslavement, segregation, redlining and other racist state policies and laws.

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Many questions over the logistics of a state reparations program remain unanswered.

An audience member standing and speaking into a microphone as others listen.
Christian Flagg, 33, of Los Angeles, shares his thoughts during Friday’s meeting of the California Reparations Task Force at the California Science Center.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

But the panel discussions Friday and Saturday at the California Science Center in South Los Angeles drew into clearer focus the heavy task of the nine-member panel: to create a program that could greatly impact the lives and socioeconomic fortunes of hundreds of thousands of people, if not more.

Amos Brown, the panel’s vice chair and a longtime civil rights leader, said the process came down to three “A’s” — admitting the problems of the past; atoning for them by identifying appropriate reparations; and acting on that information in a unified way to make sure state legislators, who would finalize a program, follow through and get the work done.

“That means getting all the sectors of the African American community and our allies to start respectfully, peaceably, sensibly, factually asking them to support reparations in this state,” Brown said.

By the end of Saturday’s meeting, the panel decided upon specific factors in the lives of Black residents that could warrant monetary compensation.

Such factors include the government’s unjust taking of property through eminent domain; the devaluation of Black businesses; disproportionate incarceration and over-policing in Black communities; and discrimination in housing, healthcare and education.

In each of those areas, the panel found that it needs to make additional decisions about the timeframe within which such harms should be considered, and whom should be compensated — including whether recipients should be limited to California residents.

Members of the public at a meeting, one holding a sign reading, "World leaders! Reparations for slavery now!"
Walter Foster, 80, of Los Angeles, raises a sign calling for a focus on financial compensation as the California Reparations Task Force takes public comment Friday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The panel also identified factors for which monetary compensation may not be possible to calculate, but that still need to be addressed, including political disenfranchisement; the pathologizing of Black families by authorities; the wresting of control over creative, cultural and intellectual Black life by others in society; and the wealth gap between Black people and others.

The panel said it would also have to decide how the state should apologize.

The discussions follow a report in June in which the panel defined what it found to be harms against African Americans from the time of slavery through the present day, and outlined preliminary recommendations for providing reparations.

The panel is working on a second report, due in June, in which it is expected to provide a detailed plan to the state Legislature.

The task force heard from experts on other reparations movements throughout history, including those for Holocaust victims in Germany, apartheid victims in South Africa, and Japanese American victims in the U.S. whose families were stripped of their assets and incarcerated in prison camps during World War II.

The panel also heard from members of the public — including some who criticized the task force’s decision in March to limit its focus to reparations for descendants of enslaved African Americans and free Black people who were living in the country before the end of the 19th century.

Eight people seated with microphones and place cards at tables arranged in a U-shape
Jovan Lewis, foreground, and other members of the California Reparations Task Force listen to public input at Friday’s meeting.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Those critics argued that all Black Californians, including more recent immigrants, have been impacted by the legacy of slavery and other racist policies, and deserve reparations, too.

Others defended the limits, saying descendants of the enslaved have suffered in specific ways that other Black Americans, including recent immigrants and their children, have not.

Several panelists said they hoped that, in future meetings, the panel would be able to hear more from the public — including personal stories from individuals and families.

The panel’s next meetings are scheduled for Dec. 14 and15.


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