California’s Unprecedented Reparations Report Details 150 Years of Anti-Black Damage


A protester raises his fist during a “Sit Out the Curfew” protest over the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 in Minneapolis while in police custody, along a street in Oakland, Pennsylvania. California, June 3, 2020.

Philippe Pacheco | AFP | Getty Images

A new report from California’s premier reparations task force details how slavery touched nearly every aspect of black life in America, producing “innumerable harms” that are still being felt today.

The report, to be released on Wednesday, offers a comprehensive look at the impacts of slavery and generations of discrimination on Black Californians and Black Americans more broadly. It finds that the damage done to black communities is extensive and that a variety of deliberately crafted policies, court rulings and racism by private actors have created a widespread exclusion of black people that has not been sufficiently addressed at any level. of government.

“Nearly 150 years of active and conscious federal, state and local government action and dereliction of duty have resulted in compounded harms that are unique to black Americans,” the authors wrote in a draft reviewed by NBC News ahead of publication. .

The report, the first to be released at the state level, comes amid heightened national debate on reparations, as well as actions at the local and municipal levels. Last year, HR 40, a congressional bill that would create a national commission to study reparations and explain the US government’s role in slavery and systemic discrimination, was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee, but it has languished ever since. during.

The California report not only covers the immediate impact of slavery, but also the harms of decades of political neglect, finding that generations of black Americans suffered lasting damage. The damage had a lasting effect on the political, economic, social, physical, mental and cultural well-being of black people, especially those descended from former slaves.

“Every state has a history of harm in the African-American community,” said Kamilah Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney and restorative justice specialist who chairs the California Reparations Task Force. The nine-member task force, created by state law in 2020, is tasked with studying the impacts of slavery on black Californians and proposing possible restitution plans.

The interim report, produced by the Civil Rights Branch of the California Department of Justice with input from the task force, includes expert testimony and public task force meetings, as well as a comprehensive review of the articles of press, academic articles and historical documents. . Task force members say the report is the most comprehensive examination of structural barriers facing black Americans since the 1968 Kerner Commission report.

A second report from the California task force, detailing the specific repair proposals and who should be eligible for them, is expected next year.

California report highlights history of ‘moral and legal wrongs’

Spanning more than 13 chapters and approximately 600 pages, the authors of the interim report recount the “moral and legal wrongs that the U.S. and California governments have inflicted on their own black citizens and residents,” noting how slavery and subsequent discrimination exposed the black communities to racial and political terror. disenfranchisement, left them with inferior health and wealth-creation outcomes, and relegated them to segregated neighborhoods and schools.

The harms were largely intentional, crafted through mutually reinforcing local and national policies, ensuring that former slaves and their descendants would be denied even basic protections under the law. The denial was keenly felt in California, which outlawed slavery when he joined the United States in 1850, but also supported the rights of pro-slavery white Southerners and turned a blind eye as slaves were trafficked into the state.

The declared ban on slavery was far from the only time California seemed to contradict itself on its position toward black Americans, according to the report. Two years after California entered the United States as a free state, lawmakers passed a Fugitive Slave Act that authorized the capture and deportation of men and women fleeing slavery. The state also refused to immediately ratify the 14th Amendment, which established equal rights for people born in the United States, and the 15th Amendment, which stated that race could not be used to deny the right to vote – he waited to approve the measures until 1959 and 1962, respectively.

As the state built a progressive reputation, attracting a growing black population over the decades, it continued to act against the best interests of black people and other communities of color, the report said. Blacks were often denied the right to vote and were subjected to literacy tests and poll taxes. Housing covenants were used to prevent black Californians from living in white communities, only for black neighborhoods to be torn down to create parks and highways.

The report adds that to some extent, California has not only matched discrimination across the country; sometimes it was a national leader. The authors write that in the 1900s, the state led the country in forced sterilizations, which disproportionately affected black, Latina, and Indigenous women. Twenty-two years before the 1896 United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson did not establish that racial segregation did not violate the Constitution, the California Supreme Court upheld racial segregation in schools. The state remains one of the most segregated in the country for black and Latino students.

In a chapter devoted to how violence was used to terrorize black Americans, the report focuses specifically on the expansion of the Ku Klux Klan in California, noting that over a 20-month period during the ” significant and violent resurgence of the Klan” in the 1920s, California cities held more KKK meetings than Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.

During the same period, Klan membership was prevalent in some local governments, and it was also prevalent in the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments. As Klan activity receded nationwide during the Great Depression, it held steady in California, and KKK activity increased in the 1940s in response to black families trying to buy homes in communities white better endowed.

The report offers some recommendations to improve the lives of Black Americans

The report also highlights that historical injustices have helped fuel modern disparities, noting that California stagnant black homeownership rates, racial disparities in police arrests and use of force, a wide gap in the average wealth of black and white families, and the unequal discipline of black students compared to to their white peers are in part the results of decades of social engineering designed to prevent black Californians from having access to the same political, financial, employment and educational opportunities as their white counterparts.

This exclusion also enjoyed support at the federal level, which the report is careful to document, pointing out that in the years before slavery and in the decades after its collapse, all levels of government worked with private actors to preserve and deeply root racial discrimination.

“Reparations are first and foremost a federal responsibility,” Moore said. “The report contains national breakdowns for each chapter as a constant reminder to people that even with California’s current effort, this is primarily a federal responsibility.”

The report recommends some steps the state could take to address the story outlined in the report, including creating an Office of Freedmen’s Affairs that could lead efforts to support Black Californians on a variety of issues. The report also suggests raising the minimum wage, increasing investment in environmental infrastructure in black neighborhoods, and addressing health inequities as initial steps the state can take before implementing a remedial effort. complete.

Now that it has released the report, the California Reparations Task Force will move on to its next task, creating a detailed reparations proposal for the legislature to consider. The task force has already made some headway, deciding in a controversial 5-4 decision in March that eligibility for compensation would be based on lineage and limited to descendants of enslaved and free black people who lived in the country before the end of the 19th century.

Some task force members and advocates criticized the decision, arguing that the eligible community should include all 2.6 million black people in California, including recent black immigrants who have experienced racially-based discrimination and bias. in the state.

In the meantime, Moore said, she hopes the report will spark conversations about the need for reparations in other states and spur additional activity at the federal level. “I hope the report will be used not just for awareness, but as an organizing tool, a sort of rallying call,” Moore said. “The damage to the African-American community has been so extensive that repairs are virtually overdue.”

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