By JANIE HAR (Associated Press)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Payments of $5 million for every eligible black adult, elimination of personal debt and tax burdens, guaranteed annual income of at least $97,000 for 250 years, and homes in San Francisco for just $1 by family.
These were among more than 100 recommendations made by a city-appointed reparations committee tasked with the thorny issue of how to atone for centuries of slavery and systemic racism. And the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, hearing the report for the first time on Tuesday, expressed enthusiastic support for the listed ideas, with some saying that money shouldn’t stop the city from doing the right thing.
Several supervisors said they were surprised to hear the reaction from San Francisco political liberals, apparently unaware that the legacy of slavery and racist politics continues to keep black Americans on the lowest rungs of health, education and economic prosperity, and super- represented in prisons and homeless populations.
“Those of my constituents who lost their minds over this proposal, it’s not something we are doing or would do for other people. It’s something we would do for our future, for everyone’s collective future,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the heavily LGBTQ neighborhood of Castro.
The draft reparations plan, released in December, is unparalleled nationally in its specificity and breadth. The committee did not conduct a cost analysis of the proposals, but critics say the plan is financially and politically impossible. An estimate by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, which is conservative, said it would cost every non-black household in the city at least $600,000.
The unanimous expressions of support for reparations on Tuesday by the council does not mean that all recommendations will be adopted, as the body can vote to approve, reject or amend any or all of them. A final committee report is due in June.
Some supervisors have previously said the city cannot afford any large reparations payments at the moment, given its deep deficit amid a slowdown in the tech industry.
Tinisch Hollins, vice chair of the Advisory Committee on African American Redresses, alluded to those comments, and several people who lined up to speak reminded the board that they would be watching closely what the supervisors did next.
“I don’t need to impress you with the fact that we’re setting a national precedent here in San Francisco,” Hollins said. “What we are asking and demanding is a real commitment to what we need to move things forward.”
The idea of paying compensation for slavery gained traction in cities and universities. In 2020, California became the first state to form a reparations task force, and it’s still struggling to put a price on what’s owed.
The idea was not adopted at the federal level.
In San Francisco, black residents once made up more than 13% of the city’s population, but more than 50 years later, they make up less than 6% of the city’s residents – and 38% of the homeless population. The Fillmore District once thrived with black-owned nightclubs and stores until government redevelopment in the 1960s forced residents out.
Fewer than 50,000 blacks still live in the city, and it’s unclear how many would be eligible. Possible criteria include having lived in the city for certain periods of time and being a descendant of someone “incarcerated in the failed War on Drugs.”
Critics say the payments are meaningless in a state and city that never enslaved blacks. Opponents often say that taxpayers who never owned slaves shouldn’t pay money to people who weren’t enslaved.
Proponents say this view ignores a wealth of historical data and evidence showing that long after slavery in the US officially ended in 1865, government policies and practices worked to lock blacks into higher rates, deny access to home loans and commercials and restrict where they could work and live.
Justin Hansford, a professor at Howard University School of Law, says no city redress plan will have enough money to right the wrongs of slavery, but he appreciates any attempt to “genuinely, legitimately, authentically” fix things. And that includes money, he said.
“If you’re going to try to apologize, you need to speak in the language that people understand, and money is that language,” he said.
John Dennis, chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, does not support reparations, though he says he would support a serious conversation about the issue. He doesn’t count the board’s discussion of $5 million payouts as one of them.
“This conversation we’re having in San Francisco is not serious at all. They just throw out a number, there’s no analysis,” said Dennis. “It looks ridiculous, and it also looks like this is the only town I could pass through.”
The council created the 15-member reparations committee in late 2020, months after California Governor Gavin Newsom approved a statewide task force amid national turmoil after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a man black.
The committee continues to deliberate recommendations, including monetary compensation, and its report is due to be sent to the Legislature on July 1. At that point, it will be up to legislators to draft and pass legislation.
The state panel made the controversial decision in March to limit compensation to descendants of blacks who were in the country in the 19th century. Some reparations advocates said this approach takes into account the harms black immigrants suffer.
Under San Francisco’s draft recommendation, a person must be at least 18 years old and have identified themselves as “Black/African American” on public documents for at least 10 years. Eligible persons must also meet two of eight other criteria, although the list may change.
These criteria include being born in or moving to San Francisco between 1940 and 1996 and having lived in the city for at least 13 years; having been displaced from the city by urban renewal between 1954 and 1973, or being a descendant of those who were; attending the city’s public schools before they were fully desegregated; or being descended from an enslaved person.
The Chicago suburb of Evanston became the first US city to fund repairs. The city gave money to eligible people for home repairs, down payments, and interest or late fees owed on the property. In December, the Boston City Council approved a task force to study reparations.
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