California’s Reparations Task Force Holds Inaugural Meeting

By Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.
June 16, 2021 Updated: June 16, 2021

California’s reparations task force has met for the first time to begin the two-year process of drafting an apology to the descendants of African American slaves and exploring ways the state might compensate them.

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans elected international civil rights attorney Kamilah Moore to chair its nine-member executive board.

“I look forward to beginning and contributing to substantive discussions surrounding the importance of reparations for black Americans who are descendants of persons and slaves in the United States,” Moore said at the group’s June 1 inaugural meeting.

Moore told the board she wants to ensure “that any reparations package that the task force develops fully comports with international law, which mandates reparations come in the form of compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition.”

Craig DeLuz, spokesman for the California Republican Assembly (CRA), told The Epoch Times that the efforts are an attempt by Democrats to distract the public from the real issues facing the state.

“California leads the nation in income inequality, homelessness and poverty as a whole. We rank at the bottom when it comes to education and employment. Why are we wasting taxpayer dollars so that left-wing politicians can grandstand?” he wrote in an email sent to The Epoch Times on June 9.

“If Democrats really want to help Black people, stop killing them in their mothers’ wombs via abortion. Stop locking them into failed public schools by fighting school choice and attacking charter schools. That would be a much better start than a commission to study reparations.”

Irvine Republican Assembly (IRA) President Christina Shea also questioned the premise of paying reparations in a June 9 text message sent to The Epoch Times.

“Why would a state, which never legalized the institution of slavery, spend their taxpayers’ hard earned money to pay reparations to those who were never enslaved? California faces far too many pressing needs now, and in the years to come, to spend such precious resources in an effort that will amount to little more than public virtue signaling,” Shea said.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3121 (AB 3121) into law in September 2020, he said the purpose of the “first-in-the-nation” state-based task force was “to study and make recommendations on reparations for slavery” to the black community.

“As our country reckons with our painful legacy of racial injustice, California, again, is poised to lead the way … towards a more equitable and inclusive future for all,” Newsom said. “Our tireless pursuit of equality in every aspect of life and economy, health, housing, education, criminal justice, and more continues today.”

Anaheim City Councilman Trevor O’Neil told The Epoch Times that it would be unfair to saddle today’s Californians with the errors of the past.

“I would say that as a believer in individual responsibility, it is unjust to punish today’s taxpayers for civil rights violations of yesteryear,” O’Neil wrote in an email.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who authored the legislation when she was a member of the state Assembly representing San Diego, called the establishment of the Reparations Task Force a historic moment.

“Some asked us, ‘Why in California? Why not somewhere else? Why did we not do it in the South?’ But we came to understand very clearly that California has the ability and the power to do it—and if not us, then who?” Weber asked at the press conference.

Newsom appointed five members of the task force, including civil rights leader Amos Brown, a pastor who is president of the NAACP’s San Francisco branch; Dr. Cheryl Grills, a clinical psychologist and professor from Los Angeles specializing in healing and trauma; Lisa Holder, an experienced trial lawyer and known advocate for racial and social justice activism in Southern California; Jovan Scott Lewis, an associate professor at the University of California–Berkeley who has researched reparations, race, and economic inequality; and Don Tamaki, an attorney who co-founded Stop Repeating History, a public awareness campaign on reparations and racial equity.

Tamaki, who worked on a landmark case that won reparations for Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II, called the “groundbreaking” study of reparations “long, long overdue.”

“While the oppression imposed on African Americans is unparalleled in its breadth, in brutality, in duration, and continuity, anti-black racism, I believe, is uniquely pernicious and unrelenting,” Tamaki said.

Other task force members include Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), and San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe.

“I watched my father every day as an entrepreneur get up and work toward his dream of building generational wealth for his family, and being held back by the system. I can now sit here and make a difference for my brother and my nephew, and all those that are coming behind us and will benefit from the work that we are doing here today,” Steppe said.

Jones-Sawyer cited several socioeconomic disparities that affect the African American community. He said reparations “must be sustainable.”

“We’re all suffering, even to this day, of PTSD from slavery—Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder,” he said.

Bradford suggested reparations could be modeled after the GI Bill for American military veterans.

“Just as President Roosevelt came up with the GI Bill to reward the men and women who fought for this country back in World War II, reparations can surely look like that—providing free education for descendants of slaves at our Cal State and UC system, providing first time homebuyers assistance, to provide medical and child care,” he said. “Those are very easy examples of what … reparations can look like without bankrupting the state.”

The task force will work with researchers and scholars to assess the damage slavery had on California and examine injustices suffered by descendants of slaves.

It adopted a recommendation from the state Attorney General’s Office to issue its report in two parts, the first by next summer and the second with recommendations for reparations in 2023. Once the second report is released, the California Legislature would have to pass new legislation to approve any proposed reparations.

The June 1 inaugural meeting of the task force was held on the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when a white mob attacked residents, homes, and businesses in the predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The incident remains one of the worst examples of racial violence in U.S. history.

President Joe Biden went to Tulsa on the same day, becoming the first sitting president to visit the historic Greenwood neighborhood and acknowledge the 1921 atrocities. While there, he announced his administration’s plans to narrow the wealth gap between black and white Americans.

The task force expects to hold the second of 10 public meetings in July.

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner told The Epoch Times that he thought it best to leave any comments on the matter to President Abraham Lincoln.

“On the subject of reparations, I don’t think I can improve on Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, and I would give Lincoln the last word rather than trust the Legislature and their appointees to do any better,” he wrote in a June 9 email.

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.