California adopts a bill to initiate reparations studies

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

AB 3121 was signed on September 30 along with other racial justice, criminal justice, and policing reform legislation.

By Aimee Martinez, Valley Life Editor

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill to begin researching and planning for a potential reparations program, making California the first to adopt a law of its kind. 

Assembly Bill 3121 – passed with bipartisan support – would create a nine-member task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, particularly those with slave ancestry. This includes collecting evidence of slavery and discriminations against slave descendants up to the present day. Members will analyze how much will be compensated, what form it will take and who would be eligible to receive it.

"California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,” said author of the bill Assemblymember Shirley Weber during the Zoom conference of the bill signing. “And the fact that many of our families, my family, came to California because they thought this was a golden state for tremendous opportunity – and it was in comparison to coming from Hope, Arkansas – but they also had to come to the realization that this state has deep rooted issues about race and slavery." 

Weber expressed that now is the right time and the current circumstances of the past few months have reinforced the truth of these issues. Weber hopes California can be a pioneer in paving the way for national action and aspires to educate the residents of the state about the impacts of slavery, an important issue worth confronting even 400 years later. In an interview with ABC, Weber stated that America has never fully taken responsibility for slavery or the impacts it still has today.

California, despite banning slavery and being a free state per the Compromise of 1850, contains its own set of grievances with enslavement. For instance, the Fugitive Slave law denied freedom to slaves who were brought prior to its statehood, according to an article by the ACLU. Many were brought during the gold rush to mine and needed to be reclaimed by their slave owners; anyone who attempted to run was labeled a criminal. Even those freed were sometimes illegally captured, unable to defend themselves in court because the law prohibited them from testifying against a white person. 

The measure cited that African Americans continue to experience the effects of historic discrimination. The wealth disparity between white and black families, an unemployment rate double that of white unemployment as well as mass incarceration were included as examples. 

The task force must also consider how California can issue a formal apology for all the injustices perpetrated against slaves and their descendants. They will determine how to eliminate current California laws and policies that disproportionately affect Africans Americans including those with "lingering psychosocial effects of slavery," stated the document. The committee will be appointed by Newsom, the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the assembly.

According to Economist William Darity, the national cost of reparations could range from about $10-$12 trillion, $8,000 per eligible household. Valley College Department Chair of Economics Tyler Prante states the federal government is more capable of drawing funds because of its access to the federal reserve. On a state level, California would need to draw money from tax revenues. Until an actual plan is decided, it is unsure how much that would be and how it would impact California residents.

"On top of people being more aware of systemic racism, we're also in the midst of a recession, aren't we?" asked Prante. “The government is taking steps presently to try and encourage spending to generate stimulus in the economy and so a person might say that those things can dovetail. In a time when the economy needs more spending, that might be a really good time to use reparations as a way to generate that spending."

Prante explains that because of the pandemic and the resulting recession, the federal government is currently weighing their options to see how they can provide more money to Americans. The logic is that when citizen incomes are low, the economy needs to do more spending. In addition to cutting taxes and giving stimulus checks, reparations could be another option.

According to the bill, the first task force meeting must be called no later than June 1, 2021.

“I’m worried about how they’re going to decide who gets what and how much and who is going to decide,” said Meghan Ferguson, currently taking an African American studies class. “I feel like a group of wealthy people who are blind to their privilege deciding how much money people should get will be like Bill Gates guessing how much money grocery store items cost on Ellen.”

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