California Black Caucus introduces reparations package

By Antonio Ray Harvey 

Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO — Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus have announced plans to introduce a package of bills designed to address the recommendations the California Reparations Task Force made last year in its final report.

Certain advocacy groups and individuals say the legislative package the lawmakers announced Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 does not go far enough. They criticized the absence of direct cash payments, an element they campaigned for as a centerpiece to any compensation due to the descendants of people who endured slavery in the Deep South and more than a century of social, economic and political injustices after abolition.

Chris Lodgson, a member of the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, released a statement after caucus members made the announcement during a press briefing with reporters Jan.31.

“As we’ve communicated to elected officials directly for some time, we believe any reparations package must be targeted explicitly and exclusively to California’s 2 million Black American descendants of persons enslaved in the U.S.,” Lodgson said in a letter obtained by California Black Media.

“In addition, a true reparations package must include timely, tangible benefits (i.e direct monetary payments). Our team will continue to review the proposals announced and any related bill/resolution language as they become available. But the time for strong, bold reparations is now, not later.”

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus first presented 14 reparations bills on Jan. 31 while on a Zoom call with Black media outlets from across the state. Caucus Chair Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson, D-Suisun City, outlined the goals of the package and stated its intention to right the wrongs of historical injustices that African Americans endured in the state of California.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood, vice chair of the caucus, presented additional pieces legislation to implement reparations at the State Capitol on the first day of Black History Month, Feb. 1.

Wilson said the caucus’s package is a “first step” in a multi-year effort to implement the legislative recommendations in the report.

Wilson was joined on the briefing by Assemblymen Corey Jackson, D-Moreno Valley, and Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa, all members of the caucus.

“While many only associate direct cash payments with reparations the true meaning of the word, to repair, involves much more,” Wilson said in a statement. “As laid out in the report, we need a comprehensive approach to dismantling the legacy of slavery and systemic racism.

“This year’s legislative package tackles a wide range of issues; from criminal justice reforms to property rights to education, civil rights and food justice.”

Bradford first introduced Senate Bill 490 last August. The bill would create a new state agency called the California American Freedman Affairs Agency, which would be responsible for managing the infrastructure required to manage reparations as determined by the Legislature and governor.

“Our coalition’s unwavering commitment has been to pursue lineage-based reparations, encompassing direct monetary payments/compensation, state recognition of descendants as a protected class, and the establishment of the CA American Freedman Affairs Agency through SB 490,” Lodgson said.

The report documented numerous cases of social injustices against Black Californians that occurred either by custom or by law across the state. For example, last year the city of Palm Springs issued an apology for destroying the homes of Black people on short notice under eminent domain laws in an area of the city known as Section 14. However, the affected families that lost their homes were never compensated for them.

The descendants of the Section 14 property owners filed a claim against Palm Springs seeking $2 billion for alleged harms due to the removal of their forebears, according to the family members’ attorney, Areva Martin.

Before issuing the apology, Palm Springs officials, investigated the removal process of the houses and they voted to provide compensation in the form of reparations.

Martin said the city has not taken any action yet.

The Legislative Black Caucus package was released three weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a $291 billion spending plan to the Legislature Jan. 10. Newsom expects the state to have a $37.9 billion deficit, a figure much lower than the nearly $68 billion deficit projected by the nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office in December.

Bradford said the state budget will affect potential reparations policies.

“Without a doubt, the budget will impact what we do but we’ve often said in California the budget is a reflection of our priorities and a reflection of our values,” Bradford said during his news conference. “If we say we value reparations and want to heal the harms of slavery in this country and in this state, we have to make this a priority.”

Last June 28, the nine-member panel, officially called the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans, submitted a 1,075-page, comprehensive reparations plan that includes more than 115 recommendations and a survey.

Khansa Jones-Muhammad, better known as “Friday Jones,” a reparations advocate, educator and vice president of the Los Angeles Reparations Advisory Commission, sent a message to the Legislative Black Caucus to share her thoughts about the reparations package.

The Los Angeles Reparations Advisory Commission is a seven-member task force comprised of activists, academicians, attorneys, racial justice advocates and more. It is supported by Los Angeles’ Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department’s Office of Racial Equity.

The commission’s main function it to advise the city on the formation of a reparations pilot program for Californians who are descendants of enslaved Black Americans in the Los Angeles area.

“I just emailed @CABlackCaucus to let them know we deserve better #Reparations bill package with targeted, timely, tangible, monetary resources for Black American descendants of U.S. chattel slavery,” Jones-Muhammad posted Feb. 1.

Wilson and Bradford said that additional legislation would be considered in the future.

“The caucus is looking to make strides in the second half of this legislative session as we build towards righting the wrongs of California’s past in future sessions,” Wilson said.

Antonio Ray Harvey is a reporter for California Black Media.