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California reparations report lays out path to remedy systemic racism

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — A first-in-the-nation task force in California created to examine slavery and its impact on the Black community released an almost 500-page report on the ongoing harms caused by slavery, political disenfranchisement, segregation and other racist and discriminatory practices.

The report tackles how the impact of systemic racism continues to impact Black Californians to this day.

“Government actions intertwined with private action and segregated America, leading to environmental harms, unequal educational and health outcomes, and over-policing of Black neighborhoods in California and across the nation,” the report states.

It adds, “Government actions and failures over 400 years have created a wealth gap that persists between Black and white Americans at all levels of income, regardless of education or family status.”

The task force, established through a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020, sought to offer recommendations for how to remedy that impact – including through monetary compensation, mental, emotional and other types of rehabilitation and other forms of restitution for Black Californians.

“Without accountability, there is no justice. For too long, our nation has ignored the harms that have been — and continue to be — inflicted on African Americans in California and across the country,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta in a statement Wednesday.

He added, “California was not a passive actor in perpetuating these harms. We must double down on our efforts to address discrimination in our state and nation and take a hard look at our own history, including at the California Department of Justice.”

The report says federal, state and local government actions have been used to oppress Black people.

California entered the Union in 1850 as a free state. However, up to 1,500 enslaved African Americans lived in California by 1852, according to the report.

The early state government supported slavery and enforced a harsh fugitive slave law, it says.

The report shows that California did not ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and Fifteenth Amendment until 1959 and 1962, respectively.

The task force’s researchers found that state agencies were also responsible for demolishing Black neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal and park construction. They say these policies led to the closure of hundreds of businesses, displaced thousands of households and damaged the lives of nearly 20,000 people in San Francisco alone.

The report also says that several cities in the state wouldn’t hire Black workers until the 1940s, while certain public sectors continued to avoid hiring Black workers into the 1970s.

“Today, by some measures, California’s two major industries, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, disproportionately employ fewer African Americans,” the report says.

The report offers several ways in which Black people continue to be disadvantaged.

For example, California remains the sixth most segregated state in the country for Black students. Schools mostly attended by white and Asian children receive more funding and resources than those with predominantly Black and Latino children, according to the report.

In 2021, the life expectancy of an average Black Californian was 75.1 years, six years shorter than the state average. Nearly 40% of California’s homeless population is Black, though the Black population in the state is only 6%, the report states.

These are only a few examples of the ways that racial discrimination has continued to impact Black Californians – from their health to their financial stability, according to the report.

Reparations for these many forms of oppression can be delivered in different ways, it says.

In March, the task force said it would limit reparations to people who could trace their lineage to free and enslaved Black people living in the U.S. during the 19th century.

The decision quickly received criticism by opponents who say the pool of recipients should be widened, considering that enslaved people may not have kept quality records, or that names may have changed since the 19th century.

Dr. Amos C. Brown, the task force’s vice chair, said in a statement Wednesday it was “a privilege” to serve on a task force with “the moral obligation” to right the wrongs perpetuated against the African American community.

“Other groups that have suffered exclusion, oppression, and downright destruction of human existence have received reparations, and we should have no less,” Brown said.

The task force will now consider several different avenues of remedying the damaging effects of racism.

The report says this includes ending “legal slavery” by removing discriminatory language that still remains in California law, paying incarcerated people fairly, eliminating discrimination in policing and developing policies that eliminate the emotional, financial and medical toll that systemic racism has had on Black people.

The task force could weigh policies concerning education, the environment, cultural institutions, voting and more.

An upcoming final report will include the task force’s official recommendation, but a date has not been set for its release.

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