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California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed a measure that sets up a panel tasked with creating proposals to pay out reparations in some form to black residents whose descendants were slaves.
The law calls for a nine-person task force that will be responsible for making recommendations as to how reparations may be provided and in what form, such as compensation or some other form of restitution, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The law does not order reparations or commit to any particular kind of payment, however.
That said, the task force is also empowered to make recommendations regarding the elimination of current state laws and policies that allegedly perpetuate discrimination, as well as formally issuing an apology “for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants,” the bill says.
When California came into the Union in 1850, it was admitted as a “free state.” However, histories of the era indicate that slavery was, in fact, practiced to a degree, though it was not nearly as pervasive as it was in southern states.
The bill charges the task force to produce a report detailing the effects of slavery and systemic discrimination past and president on black California residents while also recommending how best to educate the public about those effects. The report is due no later than June 2022.
“Advancing this cause where it’s not just a question on a questionnaire for a candidate running for office but actually taking shape here, that’s a meaningful moment,” Newsom said ahead of signing the legislation. “This conversation is so long overdue.”
He added that the law and its bipartisan support is proving to be “a paradigm that we hope will be resonant all across the United States.”
CA just became the first state in the nation to mandate the study and development of proposals for reparations.
Our past is one of slavery, racism, and injustice. Our systems were built to oppress people of color.
It’s past time we acknowledge that. https://t.co/sY8UWffqzt
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 30, 2020
The legislation makes the Golden State one of the first to study the issue of paying reparations. The Sacramento Bee says that support for reparations has grown around the country, as Congress held its first hearing on the issue last year.
In July, the Asheville, N.C. city council voted unanimously to form a Community Reparations Commission that would see funds and other resources dedicated to programs that benefit black residents.
In a 7-0 vote, the council moved to formally apologize for slavery while moving to provide “investments” in housing, career growth and development, and to provide additional health care in black neighborhoods.
“Recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans have amplified the calls for racial justice and equity,” the Bee reported. “The reparation bill was among this year’s priorities for the California Legislative Black Caucus, along with capping parole periods and repealing the state’s ban on affirmative action. Voters will decide next month whether to bring back affirmative action when they vote on Proposition 16.”
California was admitted to the Union as part of the Compromise of 1850, federal legislation that also abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C., and amended the Fugitive Slave Act, while establishing a territorial government in what would become Utah.
Two years later, however, California passed its own version of the Fugitive Slave Law, which called for former slaves in the state to be returned to their owners. It was almost immediately challenged as unconstitutional, given California’s ‘free state’ status. But the state Supreme Court upheld the law in a case involving three black men and former entrepreneurs who had been ordered returned to their former owner in Mississippi.
It was an early legal challenge to slavery by a then-prominent lawyer and founder of California’s Republican Party, Cornelius Cole, who was hired with funds raised by the black community in Sacramento.
“California has come to terms with many of issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, who introduced AB 3121, said at the bill signing ceremony.
“[The legislation] is groundbreaking for the United States, to basically say this state is going to deal with the issue of reparations and we’ll make a difference as the result of that.”
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