Five areas California’s reparations panel says the state should focus upon

A California panel tasked with studying and establishing proposals for reparations for African Americans has released an extensive report documenting the impact of slavery and systemic discrimination nationwide and in the country’s most populous state.  

The roughly 500-page report, which seeks to make the case for “comprehensive reparations,” has been lauded by advocates who see it as a potential model for a federal exploration of the issue. 

While the task force aims to release its final report by July 2023, its interim report outlines a list of preliminary recommendations it says California lawmakers could initiate. 

Below are just some of those key proposals. 

Education  

The panel recommends the identification and elimination of “racial bias and discriminatory practices in standardized testing,” and says that the state should provide “free tuition to California colleges and universities.” 

It calls for a mandatory curriculum for teacher credentialing that would include anti-bias training, and for better resources “for educational opportunities for all incarcerated people in both juvenile and adult correctional facilities.” 

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor, founder of the National Black Cultural Information Trust, called the proposal for free tuition “a big deal.” 

“African Americans, we tend to have to get student loans,” she said, which she notes can be punishing for many later on “when we’re trying to move forward, because we have to pay back all these loans basically for the rest of our lives, or default.” 

The report says the denial of education to African Americans during slavery, segregation of the nation’s schools and significant racial disparities in school funding have yielded longstanding effects seen today.  

Those harms have also contributed to the widening wealth gap between Black and white Americans, and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it said. It pointed to how more Black students live in poverty and how those students have had less access to remote schooling. 

Political disenfranchisement 

The report calls on California to establish funding for voter education and outreach, and tasks the secretary of state with taking steps to increase voter registration.  

Advocates also back proposals in the report for policy committees to conduct racial impact analyses of proposed legislation, and to allow “individuals with felony convictions to serve on juries and prohibit judges and attorneys from excluding jurors solely for having a criminal record.” 

“I’ve never seen a state do that,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter.  

The task force found “deep inequalities” in policies that have shaped the way of life for African Americans, while delving into the historical threats to Black political participation in both California and nationwide, including racial terror and devices like literacy tests, poll taxes and property requirements. 

The panel addressed what it described as “disenfranchisement laws” that persist in parts of the nation today, including legislation curtailing voting rights for people convicted of felonies.  

“Many states made clear that they targeted African Americans with their laws removing the right to vote from people convicted of felonies,” it also notes. 

Housing 

The panel calls on the state to root out existing housing policies and practices deemed “anti-Black.”  

It also pushed for compensation for those “forcibly removed from their homes” due to actions like park construction or urban renewal, and called on the state to set up a “state-subsidized mortgage system that guarantees low interest rates for qualified California Black mortgage applicants.” 

Other proposals include identifying and eliminating “policies and practices that overwhelmingly contribute to the vast overrepresentation of African Americans among the unhoused population” and counteract “the effects of crime-free housing policies that disproportionately limit Black residents’ access to housing.”  

The task force describes how California and the federal government segregated neighborhoods using practices like “redlining, zoning ordinances, decisions on where to build schools and highways and discriminatory federal mortgage policies.” 

The report also touches on how the use of “sundown towns” shut out African Americans “from living in entire cities” throughout California, how state agencies “demolished thriving Black neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal and park construction,” as well as the impact such practices had on education, wealth, and the environment for Black people. 

The wealth gap 

The report makes a push for what it calls “a detailed program of reparations for African Americans,” while also calling on the federal government to create a reparations commission. 

It presses California to develop other policies and programs aimed at closing the state’s racial wealth gap, and to “provide funding and technical assistance to Black-led and Black community-based land trusts to support wealth building and affordable housing.” 

The report tackles how policy and practice were implemented at the state, local and federal level that help white households build wealth through history, while “erecting barriers which prevent African Americans from doing the same.” 

The report points to the Federal and California Homestead Acts that provided millions of acres of land to “mostly white families,” government programs that subsidized low-cost loans in the 1930s and 1940s that paved the way for “millions of average white Americans to own their homes for the first time.” 

It notes how programs such as Social Security and the G.I. Bill “mostly excluded African Americans,” and how the federal tax system has discriminated against Blacks. This has contributed to “an enormous wealth gap that is the same today as it had been two years before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.”  

Advocates have expressed concerns about how a plan to provide reparations will look in the final report, following a vote last month that The Associated Press reported restricts compensation to those descended from enslaved Africans, or free Black people during the 19th century. 

Nkechi Taifa, founding member of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, said her main concern with the vote was “that it is under inclusive” and does not “sufficiently acknowledge the problems with proof of lineage.” 

Criminal justice and ending ‘legal slavery’ 

The task force calls for lawmakers to combat racial disparities in police stops, criminal sentencing, as well as “the over incarceration of African Americans” and “over-policing of predominantly Black communities.” 

It proposes investments in institutions it says “reduce the likelihood of criminal activity,” like care-based services, youth development, and job training, and pushes for an increase in minimum wage. The report also recommends mandating certain state agencies to work with the attorney general to “collect comprehensive data on policing, convictions, sentencing, and incarceration, including the use of less lethal weapons by law enforcement and demographic characteristics.” 

The report calls for incarcerated people working in prison or jail to be “paid a fair market rate for their labor,” barring for-profit prison companies from operating in the system, allowing those incarcerated to vote, and the deletion of language from the state constitution permitting “involuntary servitude as punishment for crime.” 

The task force said a racial hierarchy was enshrined in the nation during slavery that continued to operate after it was outlawed, pointing to barriers in areas like housing segregation and voter suppression, as well as “forced labor” that “rested on discrimination in law enforcement, judicial decisions, and prison sentencing that doomed African Americans to slavery-like conditions.” 

Brandon Greene, racial and economic director at the ACLU, named proposals addressing injustice in the legal system among those that stood out to him “immediately,” including eliminating disparities in police stops. 

“There’s legislation around tracking that data, but what it’s going to actually look like in implementation, I think, is the ultimate question,” he said.