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California reparations task force meets in San Diego to discuss eligibility

“I’m here because I hurt,” LaKiesha Milner told the nine assembled task force members, during the panel’s public comment period.

(CN) — The first public meeting in 2023 of California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans met at San Diego State University on Friday to take public comment of citizens and discuss proposals for who would be eligible for reparations, and to take testimony from experts on other ways the task force can propose policies to begin to repair centuries of racist public policy and violence against African-American descendents of people enslaved in the U.S.

“I’m here because I hurt,” LaKiesha Milner told the nine assembled task force members, during the panel’s public comment period. Hurt, she said, from the impacts of the history of American slavery of African-Americans, and anti-Black racism and racist public policy, an impact she referred to as akin to post traumatic stress disorder, or “post traumatic slave syndrome,” Milner said.

The task force was created after the passage of Assembly Bill 3121 in 2020, which made California the first state in the nation to create a task force to study the history of anti-Black racism and and anti-Black public policy, and make proposals on how the state can pay reparations for African-Americans who experienced that discrimination and their descendants. 

The task force’s stop in San Diego was its fourth public meeting since its creation.

Along with taking comments and ideas from the public about what those reparations will look like, the task force also discussed who would be eligible for reparations.

The task force’s guidelines specifically states that African-American descendants of people enslaved in the United States will be eligible for reparations, but what, if any, other requirements should people have to meet? The task force discussed the possibility of requiring people to be California residents for some number of years, or whether ex-residents of the state who left either because of racist violence, or racist housing laws and policy, could also claim eligibility. 

“This state was always anti-Black,” Amos Brown, one of the nine task force members, said, talking about the virulently anti-Black first governor of California, Peter Hardeman Burnett. “It was stamped from the beginning and we’ve never wiped it out.”

Five members of the task force were appointed by the governor, two were appointed by the president of the state senate, and two members were appointed by the speaker of the state assembly. 

Other panel members include state Senator Steven Bradford, U.C. Berkeley Associate Professor of Geography Jovan Scott Lewis, and Donald K. Tamaki, who worked on the legal team that overturned Fred Korematsu’s conviction for refusing to be incarcerated in a Japanese-American concentration camp during World War II. Tamaki also worked in the American Redress Movement, which ultimately led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which granted reparations to survivors of the Japanese-American internment camps.  

The task force will be compiling their recommendations for the state’s future reparations program in June of this year. They will not draft the actual policy or program. 

“We can do this. California is the one that gets things done,” said Shirley Weber, California’s secretary of state.  

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also spoke at the beginning of the task force’s meeting. 

“Make sure your recommendations have lasting impact,” Weber added. 

Some of the recommendations from the public included the creation of a 21st century state Freedmen's Bureau inspired by the federal agency created during Reconstruction after the Civil War to assist and advocate for African-Americans, and advocacy for a federal reparations program.

Task force member Lisa Holder also presented a proposal to include policies that make the justice system more equitable in reparations proposals.

“The Task Force Interim Report establishes that the criminal legal system is a sector responsible for some of the most egregious state sanctioned human rights abuses against Black People,” one of Holder’s slides she presented read.

Reparations aren’t just about a check, Holder said, but about changing the systems and institutions that harm African-American people. 

One of the reforms that Holder suggested was strengthening the provisions of The Racial Justice Act, including greater uniformity in its implementation and better data collection, more prosecutorial transparency and a proposal to create a Racial Justice Act Commission to track, audit, monitor and analyze data generated and to increase public oversight for watchdog and community organizations to build expertise for advocacy and compliance.  

At the end of the meeting the task force heard from a few California cities who are implementing their own local reparation programs.

Berkeley City Council Member Ben Bartlett joined the meeting through Zoom. Before he discussed his city’s reparations program he said that he had just watched the video of the Memphis Police killing of Tyre Nichols and was shaken by it.  

“This is our country. We built it, we made it what it is. We deserve a fair shake,” Bartlett said.  

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