Reparations group gets started on possible compensation for Black residents
on November 10, 2023
The Alameda County Reparations Commission held its first meeting this week to address the impacts of slavery and racial discrimination on the county’s Black residents.
The meeting on Monday came about eight months after the Board of Supervisors approved a reparations commission to hold listening sessions, conduct research and draft a plan for repairing these impacts.
“The fact that you’ve accepted this appointment and stepped forward to serve is admirable. Our hope is that you will be able to accomplish your mission within the next 12 to 18 months,” Nate Miley, Alameda County Supervisors president, told the commission.
Part of the commission’s work will be to determine what funding, if any, is available at the county level for reparations.
Advocates have pushed for reparations for decades, but the movement reached national prominence in 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Amid the furor, California established the nation’s first statewide Reparations Task Force to examine the impacts of slavery and determine any compensation the state owed Black residents. In June, the task force issued its final report, with recommendations for improving education, housing and other outcomes for Black Americans who could trace their lineage to an enslaved ancestor.
Since then, the momentum for reparations appears to have diminished.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors in September expressed support for a reparations plan. However, the final decision lies with Mayor London Breed, who has suggested reparations should be solved at the federal level.
Dr. Amos Brown, a member of the California Reparations Task Force, pointed out the problem is bigger than any single politician.
“You cannot blame the mayor over and over. You cannot blame the president of this nation. It’s the system: Congress, legislative bodies, public policy, committees,” Brown said.
Alameda County’s Black population faces disproportionate challenges that many attribute to the legacy of slavery. Compared to other racial groups, Black people in Alameda County on average earn less income and become homeless at higher rates. They’re also much more likely to be incarcerated and face injustice in the judicial system. Black people also suffer the highest rates of mortality for the leading causes of death.
While a September poll found a majority of California voters thought slavery continued to impact the conditions of the state’s Black residents, 60% opposed putting money in the pockets of Black residents.
Critics say providing reparations would unfairly benefit Black people over other groups who also faced racism and discrimination. They also argue that current taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for the harms of the past.
There might be broad economic benefits to reparations. A 2020 Citi study estimated that closing the racial wealth gap today would add $5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next five years. A 2022 study found that reparations could narrow persistent racial disparities.
The 15-person commission — which includes 10 seats held by county residents who have been harmed by the legacy of slavery — repeatedly emphasized the desire to achieve results. Debra Gore, president of the Greenlining Institute, has been appointed chair.
“I’m honored to be asked to chair the commission. I see it as a joint effort that is not singularly held by myself. I really am biased towards action — that we get something done,” Gore said.
The commission will hold up to 17 meetings throughout the county over the next year. It will also identify potential funding sources and report its findings to the Board of Supervisors ad hoc Reparations Committee, chaired by Miley and Supervisor Elisa Márquez.
Miley said he would meet with the Reparations Commission chair and the county administrator about potentially hiring a consultant to help the commission with public communications and engagement. The commission budget, however, does not include funding for hiring any experts, so it’s unclear where that money would come from.
In the meantime, it looks as if initial plans to receive the commission’s recommendations in July could be delayed.
“I anticipate you’ll be meeting throughout the end of 2024 and potentially into 2025. I’m hoping you’ll be able to wrap up your work by the end of the fiscal year — June 30, 2025,” Miley told the commission.
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