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The politics of trying to work out a reparations solution


Practical Politics 

The state of California currently has an African American population of approximately 2,282,144 or 5% of the state’s population. The California state legislature currently comprises 120 representatives---80 members of the state legislature and 40 members of the state senate. 

The African-American proportion of that governance includes 10 members of the state legislature, and one member of the state senate. Those eleven members are the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC). African-Americans in state government also include Dr. Shirley Weber, the California Secretary of State, Dr. Tony Thurman, the State Superintendent of Public Education, and Malia Cohen, the State Controller.

Last week, the CLBC members presented to the state the first set of its Reparations Proposals, which are based on the 1075-page report compiled by the California State Reparations Commission. None of those first proposals requested direct monetary payments to the state’s African-American population, as many participants at community meetings during the past two years have loudly suggested. Such payments, if ever publicly proposed by the CLBC or any other state group, will be monumentally controversial in California. Currently, and without any doubt for the immediate future, African-Americans do not have the political clout in California to dictate any such state monetary outlays to members of the Black community. 

As has already been mentioned in this column previously, even in San Francisco, where there is significant support from some current members of the municipal government to vote to provide such reparations-related monetary payments  to Black residents of the city, there has been and will continue to be in the near future a lack of political will to provide such monetary stipends. This is with an African-American mayor of San Francisco, and several municipal supervisors.

The CLBC’s latest action proposals include: a plan to submit 14 pieces of legislation during the next legislative sessions that will address reparations for issues which include criminal justice reform ( e.g., eliminating the state’s authorization to force Black prisoners to provide free labor to the state), property rights, civil rights prescriptions, food justice and educational reform to benefit California’s Black community. The proposals are not the quick-hitter, big explosion kind. Instead, they are for slower governmental progress that represents what the CBLC does as a matter of course, and changes that will be more permanent and inside the fabric. As Assemblyman Lori Wilson, the current state chair of the CLBC said,  “the legislative action plan for reparations begins with acknowledgement, apology and action.”

This is all true to the legislative process and not emblematic of the quick strike, loud public reform many of the people who came to the various state reparations meetings said they wanted. But the political fact of the matter is, however, if one wants more swift and eventful political change, then one must obtain more political authority and clout than Black folk currently have in California. 

Assemblymember Lori Wilson, the current CLBC chair, said the plan for California reparations “must begin with acknowledgement, apology and action.” That is what the CBLC is doing under her generalship. The reparations-related bills the CLBC will present in the coming months include: (1) Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, which would remove from the California Constitution the exception clause that allows indentured servitude in state prisons. (2) Assembly Bill 1929, to expand access to career technical education by creating a competitive grant program to increase the enrollment of slave-descendants in STEM-related Career Technical Programs in high schools and colleges. (3) Career education financial aid for redlined communities. (4) AB 2064:  To create a state-funded grant program for community-driven programs to decrease community violence at the family, school and neighborhood levels in African-American communities. (5) AB 280 (Holden) – The Mandela Act: To restrict the use of solitary confinement within state-run detention facilities. (6)       ACA 7  to amend the state constitution to allow the state to fund programs for the purpose of increasing the life expectancy of, improving educational outcomes for, or lifting out of poverty specific groups. (7) ACR 135 (Weber) which will formally recognize and accept responsibility for all of the harms and atrocities committed by representatives of the state who promoted, facilitated, enforced and permitted the institution of chattel slavery. (8) AB 1815 (Weber) – To prohibit discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in all competitive sports by extending the CROWN Act to explicitly include competitive sports within California. (9) SB 1050 (Bradford) – Property seizures: To restore property taken during race-based uses of eminent domain to its original owners or provide another effective remedy where appropriate, such as restitution or compensation. (10) AB 3089 (Jones-Sawyer) Will issue a formal apology for human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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