Activists on Saturday demanded that the state of California pay millions of dollars to each Black resident in reparations as a way to make amends for slavery and subsequent discrimination, dismissing the mammoth proposals from California’s reparations task force as too little.
The demands were made at a highly explosive official meeting of the task force, which was created by state legislation signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020. The committee was hearing comments from the public as it considers final recommendations to submit to the California Legislature, which will then decide whether to implement the measures and send them to Newsom’s desk to be signed into law.
An activist identified as Reverend Tony Pierce was one of the most outspoken people at the gathering, making reference to the famous “40 acres and a mule” promise to former slaves when he took the podium.
“You know that the numbers should be equivocal to what an acre was back then. We were given 40, OK? We were given 40 acres. You know what that number is. You keep trying to talk about now, yet you research back to slavery and you say nothing about slavery, nothing,” said Pierce. “So, the equivocal number from the 1860s for 40 acres to today is $200 million for each and every African-American.”
Pierce, who shouted most of his remarks, then directed his ire to the task force for in his view not pushing an ambitious enough reparations plan.
“You’re not supposed to be afraid,” he said. “You’re just supposed to tell the truth. You’re not supposed to be the gatekeepers. You’re supposed to say what the people want and hear from the people.”
Pierce concluded with a warning to California’s top elected official: “Tell Governor Newsom we’re coming. He knows me.”
Economists predicted in a preliminary estimate in March that California’s reparations plan could cost the state more than $800 billion. The task force, which consulted five economists and policy experts to arrive at the number, said at the time that the total didn’t include compensation for property that the group says was taken unjustly or for the devaluation of Black-owned businesses.
California’s total annual state budget sits at roughly $300 billion.
Earlier this week, however, the task force published its latest proposals, which don’t contain an overall price tag but instead outline ways California could calculate how much money Black residents have lost since 1850, when the state was established, through today due to discrimination.
The report suggests dollar amounts that have been lost for specific types of racial discrimination, indicating that those amounts should be paid back to Black residents.
These estimates include, for example, losing $2,352 per person per year of California residence for the over-policing of Black communities, $3,366 per person per year of residence for “discriminatory lending and zoning,” $13,619 per person per year of residence for “injustices and discrimination in health” and $77,000 per person for Black-owned business losses and devaluations.
The task force also urges in its latest documents that eligible Black Californians receive cash “down payments” as soon as possible while waiting for the full amount of money loss due to racism and slavery to be calculated.
In total, a Black person who has lived in California for their whole life, until at least age 71, could potentially receive more than $1.2 million in lifetime restitution.
However, such ideas are skimping on what’s necessary to pay Black Californians, according to activists who spoke at the gathering.
“$1.2 million is nowhere near enough. It should be starting at least $5 million like San Francisco,” said one woman. “We want direct cash payments just like how the stimulus [checks] were sent out. It’s our inheritance, and we can handle it.”
The city of San Francisco is weighing its own reparations proposals at the local level, including a proposal to dole out $5 million each to qualifying Black residents.
Others at the meeting similarly dismissed the current task force plan is insufficient. One speaker called for the task force to issue $5 million in reparations as San Francisco is considering.
“This million dollars we’re hearing on the news is just inadequate and a further injustice if that’s what this task force is going to recommend for Black Americans for 400-plus years and continuing of slavery and injustice that we have been forced to endure,” she said. “To even throw a million dollars at us is just an injustice.”
Whatever the final figures, it’s unclear how California would afford to pay millions of dollars to each eligible Black resident. Newsom announced in January that the state faces a projected budget deficit of $22.5 billion for the coming fiscal year. Weeks later, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, a government agency that analyzes the budget for the state legislature, estimated in a subsequent report that Newsom’s forecast undershot the mark by about $7 billion.
Task force leaders have said they expect the legislature to come up with actual reparations amounts. According to California Justice Department officials, the law creating the task force did not instruct the committee to identify funding sources.
Beyond arguing reparations proposals are fiscally unmanageable, critics argue it doesn’t make sense to implement them when California never allowed slavery.
Proponents counter that racial discrimination in the state has devastated the Black community, costing it untold amounts of money.
Beyond raw dollars and cents, the task force also proposes several policy changes to combat racial discrimination and for California to issue a formal apology enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor for slavery and anti-Black racism.
The reparations program would be overseen by a new state agency that would determine eligibility for and distribute funds, according to the task force report.
Most people who spoke at Saturday’s meeting spoke in support of reparations. Despite such agreement, however, sparks flew throughout the chaotic, emotionally charged gathering as arguments broke out. Indeed, many attendees spoke out of turn and interrupted each other, leading Kamilah Moore, the task force chair, to call for security to remove people multiple times.
In several instances, activists in the room got into shouting matches, forcing the meeting to be put on pause to settle down the room.
The reparations task force is set to vote on its latest recommendations on Saturday evening. A final report with the panel’s official recommendations is due by July 1 to the state legislature.