The California Reparations Task Force has yet to decide on a dollar figure for state descendants of slavery, but San Francisco’s proposal to enrich its Black residents to the tune of $5 million each has raised the bar.
The pressure was on at the state task force’s two-day hearing Saturday as multiple speakers cheered the San Francisco reparations committee’s draft, which recommends paying eligible residents each $5 million; providing them with a guaranteed annual income and covering their personal and educational debts.
“San Francisco — $5 million per descendant. That’s where we should follow suit. Start with $5 million for every qualified chattel slave descendant,” Truth Bay of the Hip Hop Fraternity told the panel during Friday’s public comment in San Diego.
Kash Gaines got behind the $5 million one-time payment as well as the proposed $97,000 guaranteed annual income for 250 years, although he suggested the time period should be doubled to 500 years.
“At this point, SF’s kind of ahead of the curve,” said Mr. Gaines. “I think we should use their numbers as well as the recommendations of the entire task force.”
Indeed, the state looks practically tight-fisted by comparison. The only figure floated publicly by the state task force came last month with its estimate that housing discrimination cost Black Californians $569 billion from 1933-77, which amounts to $223,000 per person.
Activist Rev. Tony Pierce made it clear during public comment that anything in the low six figures is not going to cut it, declaring “$200,000 is not enough! $223,000 is not enough!”
The two-day meeting at the San Diego State University, the state panel’s first since the San Francisco draft made headlines, came with California increasingly emerging as the nation’s reparations epicenter despite having never been a slave state.
The comments also illustrated the difficulty of keeping public expectations in check as Golden State municipalities craft their own reparations agendas.
State task force member Jovan Lewis emphasized that the panel is still working with its economists to provide accurate financial estimates on the legacy of slavery.
“I’m hearing things about $200,000, and the task force has not stated any figures,” said Mr. Lewis, a University of California Berkeley associate professor. “We have not done that. We’re having that conversation literally right now so we can get to a point where once we have figures coming back from the economic experts, we can then present those figures to you with our authority.”
California cities jumping on the reparations bandwagon include San Francisco, Berkeley and Sacramento, although San Francisco’s committee has drawn the lion’s share of attention.
Brittni Chicuata, San Francisco Human Rights Commission director of economic rights, told the state task force that her office is fighting a media “misinformation campaign” on the December reparations report, which included more than 100 recommendations.
“Despite having 111 recommendations, the one salacious recommendation that has really been getting us a range of love and hate over the last two weeks has been the $5 million recommendation for select eligible residents,” she said.
San Francisco has about 45,000 Black residents. If they all qualified for reparations, the lump-sum payment alone would cost the city $225 billion. The 2022-23 fiscal year municipal budget was $14 billion.
Ms. Chicuata described the draft proposal, which must be approved by the Board of Supervisors, as a work in progress.
“The recommendations are kind of limited to this one unrestricted cash payment for the 45,000 Black people who live in San Francisco,” she said. “We’re working with the committee to retool and update both the eligibility and the final recommendations. Everything right now is simply a proposal. Nothing is written in stone.”
The state task force settled its eligibility question last year, voting in March to limit reparations payments to Black Californians who are descendants of slaves or free Black people living in the United States before the end of the 19th century.
Even though California was a free state, “its early state government supported slavery,” and an estimated 1,500 slaves lived there in 1852, according to the task force‘s interim report released in June.
In addition, the report said that the state engaged in discrimination in housing, education, employment, incarceration, child welfare and other areas, creating a “wealth gap.”
Speakers at the two-day hearing had plenty of suggestions beyond cash and debt relief, including free education, free health care, free travel, property grants, shutting down prisons and cracking down on police misconduct.
“We need free health care, free psychological care based on the damage that was done by systemic racism, free land due for us being that our labor has been historically low-balled and free,” said Henry Wallace, chairman of the original Black Panther Party San Diego. “We feel like this state and the country need to give us land. Also, free education based on the standards of the Black Panther Party.”
The state task force has until June 1 to send its final report to the General Assembly. The reparations panel was established in September 2020 with the passage of Assembly Bill 3121, signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
During Saturday’s public comment, frequent Democratic primary candidate Morris Griffin suggested that a generous reparations package would boost Mr. Newsom, an oft-mentioned potential contender for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination.
“We want you to be aware of the fact that if you give us or when you give us reparations to the day we die, $5,000 to $10,000 tax free, we will make sure that we spread the word what we heard, and you will never look back when it comes to you running for the presidency,” said Mr. Griffin.
He and others at the meeting predicted more jurisdictions would follow California’s lead.
“Everywhere we go, people are taking up the issue, not waiting for Washington,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who authored the 2020 bill. “Developing programs that deal with housing and education. Even here in San Diego, our foundation is talking about how they can create more home ownership among African Americans in San Diego. Everyone has decided that reparations is their job.”
The task force‘s next hearing is scheduled for March 3-4 in Sacramento.