California on Wednesday became the first state to pass legislation clearing the way for black residents and descendants of slaves to receive reparation payments.
The legislation, which was drafted by Congresswoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat representing San Diego and chair of the California Black Legislative Caucus, does not commit to any specific payments. Instead, he creates a nine-person task force that will study the impact of slavery on blacks in California and recommend to the legislature what kind of compensation to provide, who should receive it, and what form it should take. will take.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed the law on Wednesday afternoon.
“After watching last night’s debate, this signing cannot come too soon,” he said in a video conference with lawmakers and other stakeholders, including rapper Ice Cube, who used his fame to defend the bill.
“As a nation, we can only truly prosper when each of us has the opportunity to prosper. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and prejudices embedded and permeated in our democratic and economic institutions,” said Newsom in a statement.
In a year filled with protests and calls for racial accounting, the law has received bipartisan support in the Legislature. Advocates hope it will become a model for other states and repair not only slavery but also some of the institutional practices that continue to disproportionately affect black people in the United States.
“This is an extremely important time for all of us,” Weber said Wednesday. “California is trying to lead the way in terms of civil rights, and we have a responsibility to do so.
Weber, who was born in Arkansas, said she and her family moved to California because they saw “a great opportunity.” But, she added, California still has work to do to recognize its history with race and inequality.
“California has solved a lot of its problems, but it has not yet accepted its role in slavery,” she said. “After 400 years, we still have the impact.”
California was founded as a Free State, or state where slavery was illegal, in 1850, but several laws significantly allowed residents to retain slaves as long as they lived temporarily in California or purchased the slaves prior to the statute. of state.
Slavery became illegal in the United States in 1865.
A similar proposal to study reparations for black Americans was first presented to Congress in 1989. It was never passed, but Congress held a hearing on the proposal last year.
Weber’s bill was drafted last year before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis custody sparked nationwide protests. It was also written before the coronavirus exposed disparities in the country’s health system, which made testing, treatment and prevention less accessible to communities of color.
“It’s not just because of the circumstances we are facing. What happened is that, of course, those circumstances reinforced the fact that what we were saying from the start was true,” he said. Weber said. “Some people think we are only reacting to the present moment, but we are responding to California history and black life in California and this country.”