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How can California provide reparations? A new report suggests several ways

A new report by a California state task force details the harms done to Black Americans over the course of American history and lays out severalrecommendations it says could remedy the wrongs that "continue to physically and mentally harm African Americans today."

At nearly 500 pages, the report lays out the history of how Black Americans were disadvantaged by the government – from slavery to segregation to discrimination in housing and employment to inequities in the justice system.

"Along with a dereliction of its duty to protect its Black citizens, direct federal, state and local government actions continued to enforce the racist lies created to justify slavery," states the report, which was released Wednesday. "These laws and government supported cultural beliefs have since formed the foundation of innumerable modern laws, policies, and practices across the nation."

The report's recommendations range from policing reforms to housing grants to compensate families who were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for state projects like freeways and parks.

"What we're asking for is fair, it's just and it is right, and a nation that does not know how to admit this wrong and act in ways that are practical to show fruits of repentance is on the way to losing its soul," said task force vice-chair Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, in an interview with NPR.

Details of a reparations program – including how much payments could be, and who would be eligible – will be part of a second report due by July 2023.

The report's recommendations are wide-ranging

In its 13 chapters, the report describes the history of the disadvantages dealt to Black Americans in every aspect of American life – the political process, housing, business, employment, criminal justice system, healthcare, environment and infrastructure – including California laws and policies that contributed to the inequality.

Some of the report's recommendations are concrete, like the suggestions to allow incarcerated people to vote and to proactively recruit Black American teachers to teach in K-12 public schools.

Others are more abstract, such as the recommendation to compensate "individuals who have been deprived of rightful profits for their artistic, creative, athletic, and intellectual work."

And many are general recommendations intended to reduce societal inequality overall – including free tuition at California colleges and universities, a higher minimum wage and a requirement that employers provide paid time off and health benefits.

"Without accountability, there is no justice. For too long, our nation has ignored the harms that have been — and continue to be — inflicted on African Americans in California and across the country," said California Attorney General Rob Bonta in a press release.

The task force was created after the death of George Floyd in 2020.

"It's my personal hope that people in California and across the United States utilize this report as an educational and organizing tool," said Kamilah Moore, task force chair, in an interview with NPR. "This interim report far exceeds expectations in substantiating the claims for reparations for the African American or American Freedmen community."

The report is the first of its kind in decades, its authors say. The closest comparison is the Kerner Commission report, which was issued in 1968 after the summer of race protests and riots the year before.

That report, which famously proclaimed that America was "moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal," found that unrest among Black and Latino Americans could be attributed to segregation, police brutality and lack of economic opportunity. Its recommendations were largely ignored.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Sarah Mizes-Tan / CapRadio