Legislative Black Caucus introduces reparations package

By Antonio Ray Harvey
Contributing Writer
SACRAMENTO — The California Legislative Black Caucus has announced a package of reparations legislation the lawmakers call “a starting point” to atone for the state’s legacy of discrimination.
All 12 members of the caucus were present Feb. 21 at a press conference announcing the legislation to explain their efforts to rectify the damages caused by the systemic discrimination against Black Californians detailed in the 1,100-page report by the first-in-the-nation California reparations task force submitted last June.
Assemblywoman Lori Wilson, D-Suisun City, who chairs the caucus, said it may take three to seven years to pass legislation aimed at implementing the task force recommendations.
The package the caucus presented consists of 14 legislative proposals, each designed to address different aspects of systemic racism and inequality.
One proposal by Assemblyman Cory Jackson, D-Riverside, seeks to amend the voter-passed initiative, Proposition 209 that prohibits considering race, color, sex or nationality in public employment, education and contracting decisions. The amendment would allow the governor to approve exceptions to the law in order to address poverty and improve educational outcomes for African Americans and other marginalized groups.
State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood, discussed legislation aimed at compensating families whose properties were seized through eminent domain as a result of racism and discrimination.
The package of bills includes a measure proposed by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, Assembly Bill 3089 to formally acknowledge California’s history of slavery and discrimination, requiring lawmakers to issue a formal apology.
Additionally, a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Wilson aims to ban involuntary servitude, particularly within the state’s prison system.
Reparations advocates and social justice groups from statewide organizations shared their support and criticism of the 14-bill reparations package with California Black Media.
A Coalition for a Just and Equitable California stated that the legislative package does not address direct-cash payment, which, for that group’s leadership, is a non-negotiable component of any proposed compensation package.
“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 California American Freedman Affairs Agency through Senate Bill 490,” coalition member Chris Lodgson said in a statement.
“We believe these vital components are imperative and a necessary first step toward true reparations. 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 person enslaved in the U.S.”
Media present at the news briefing persistently questioned Wilson and other caucus members about direct payments.
Wilson said the budget deficit California is currently facing has become a consideration in discussions about compensation. A Legislative Analyst’s Office report released Feb. 20 estimates that the state’s budget shortfall could expand to $73 billion by May.
“In regard to direct-cash payments, to individuals we will continue to have that discussion as we navigate the next few years,” Wilson said. “As noted, we’re halfway through a legislative session. We have about three months of the legislative process in each house (Senate and Assembly) to work through these existing bills.
“In the next session, we have two years, and during that two-year session, we will consider all … additional payments, whether they are direct-cash payments or direct payments to communities,” Wilson added.
The Alliance for Reparations, Reconciliation and Truth, a collaboration of California’s leading Black power-building and justice groups, supports seven of the caucus’ 14 reparations bills with proposals that include the restoration of property, establishing the property tax assistance for descendants of enslaved persons program, a formal apology for human rights violations and crimes against humanity, amending the California Constitution to prohibit involuntary servitude for incarcerated persons and prohibiting discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles.
“The California Legislative Black Caucus reparations package marks a historic and meaningful moment in time. [The alliance] encourages lawmakers to pursue an even more expansive and definitive action to fulfill the reparations principles as recognized by the United Nations,” said James Woodson, co-founder of the alliance and executive director of the California Black Power Network. “Reparative justice must be impactful, transformative and enduring, thus paving the way toward atoning for the wrongdoings deeply imprinted in the state’s history and healing this democracy.”
The Alliance for Reparations, Reconciliation and Truth is a collaboration between the Black Equity Collective, the California Black Power Network, Catalyst California, Equal Justice Society and Live Free USA, Live Free California.
Former members of the California reparations task force have partnered with the alliance including Loyola-Marymount clinical psychologist professor Cheryl Grills, Oakland-based civil rights attorney Lisa Holder, chair of the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley professor Jovan Scott Lewis, and Oakland-based attorney Donald Tamaki.
“We absolutely are (in support of direct-cash payments),” Woodson told California Black Media. “I think we got to have it all. There were multiple harms that were caused and one of them was financial and that needs to be compensated for cash payments.
“And there are also systemic harms that were created,” Woodson added. “We need to change laws. We need to change how rules work because a lot of it flows out of anti-Black racism. We have to have everything because if you leave anything out it’s not for reparations.”
Sources shared with California Black Media that there will be a series of listening sessions with the Legislative Black Caucus to help educate Californians about the reparation bills and the workings of the legislative process.
Antonio Ray Harvey is a reporter for California Black Media.