Advocates Weigh in on Calif. Black Caucus Reparations Package

Advocates Weigh in on Calif. Black Caucus Reparations Package

Photo: California Legislative Black Caucus introduces a 14-bill reparations package at the State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2024. Shown left to right: Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Asm. Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), Asm. Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Asm. Mike Gipson (D-Carson), Asm. Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), Asm. Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood), Asm. Isaac Bryan (D-Ladera Heights), Asm. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), Asm. Corey Jackson (Moreno Valley), Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles), and Asm. Mia Bonta (D-Alameda). CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.
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 ANTONIO RAY HARVEY | CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA

On Feb. 21, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) held a press conference at the State Capitol organized to introduce 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 CLBC were present 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.

The nine-member panel submitted the recommendations on June 28, 2023.

CLBC chairperson Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City) said it may take three to seven years to pass legislation aimed at implementing the task force recommendations.

The package the CLBC members presented consists of 14 legislative proposals, each designed to address different aspects of systemic racism and inequality.

One proposal by Assemblymember Cory Jackson (D-Riverside), ACA 7, seeks to amend the voter-passed initiative, Prop 209, that prohibits considering race, color, sex, or nationality in public employment, education, and contracting decisions. This 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.

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 Assemblymember Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Bill (AB) 3089 to formally acknowledge California's history of slavery and discrimination, requiring lawmakers to issue a formal apology.

Additionally, a proposed constitutional amendment, ACA 8, sponsored by CBLC chair, Lori 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 (CBM).

A Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC) stated that the CLBC’s 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 (SB) 490,” CJEC member Chris Lodgson outlined in a statement.

Lodgson continued, “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. (American Freedmen).”

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Media present at the news briefing persistently questioned Wilson and other CLBC members about direct payments.

Wilson mentioned that the budget deficit California is currently facing has become 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 of the fall concluding additional payments whether they are direct-cash payments or direct payments to communities,” Wilson said.

The Alliance for Reparations, Reconciliation, and Truth (ARRT), a collaboration of California’s leading Black power-building and justice groups, supports seven of CLBC’s 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. ARRT encourages lawmakers to pursue an even more expansive and definitive action to fulfill the reparations principles as recognized by the United Nations,” stated James Woodson, AART co-founder 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.”

ARRT 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 AART: Loyola-Marymount clinical psychologist professor Dr. Cheryl Grills, Oakland-based civil rights attorney Lisa Holder, Chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley professor Dr. 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. 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 CBM that there will be a series of listening sessions with the CLBC to help educate Californians about the reparation bills and the workings of the legislative process.

The members of the CLBC are Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City); Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood); Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa); Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Ladera Heights); Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda); Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena); Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson); Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Riverside); Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D- Los Angeles); Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood); Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento); and Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles).

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