San Francisco discusses reparations proposals, but they’re still a long way off: NPR
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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has signaled that it is ready to right past racist wrongs — at least in spirit.
In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the 11 members accepted a draft plan of more than 100 reparations recommendations for eligible black residents of the city. These proposals include a huge one-time payment of $5 million to each adult and full compensation for personal debt – including credit cards, taxes and student loans. Black residents could also collect an annual income of at least $97,000 for 250 years and buy homes within the city limits for $1.
The board’s decision was largely procedural – an intermediate step in a much longer process. It does not bind the city to any of the ideas presented in the 60-page proposal from San Francisco’s African-American Reparations Advisory Committee, which in 2020 was tasked with addressing “city-sanctioned institutional harms that have been inflicted on African-American communities”. .”
“We are not here today to say which recommendations we will support or move forward. There is still a lot of work to be done,” the bill’s sponsor, Shamann Walton, said before the vote during the 7:30 a.m. meeting.
A final report including comments from the Board of Supervisors is expected in June. The board is due to meet again on the matter in September.
Still, the vote was greeted with fanfare by residents and the large cash payout made national headlines. But some longtime civil rights and reparations activists have criticized the committee’s board and financial restitution figures, calling them political theater designed to delay meaningful change.
Some activists criticize the plan as unrealistic
“This black community doesn’t need to be set up for trickery and failure. Their hopes don’t need to be raised by mere words, words, words,” Reverend Amos Brown told NPR. one day after the meeting.
In addition to serving as senior pastor at Third Baptist San Francisco, the city’s oldest black church, Brown serves as president of the San Francisco NAACP. He said he “had been in the fight for civil rights for 68 years” and had learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Frustrated and furious, Brown noted that he had urged the board to reject the $5 million payment proposal before the meeting.
To be clear, Brown said he expects monetary restitution to be part of any reparations package by the city, state and federal government. But first, he said, officials must focus on the future and the best path forward to equality and justice. For Brown, that means investing in housing, education, health care, economic empowerment and cultural centers for San Francisco’s declining black community.
At its peak in the 1970s, African Americans made up about 13.5% of the city’s population. In 2022, the number has fallen to 5.7%. This makes it one of the largest cities in the country with one of the lowest proportions of black residents.
“There should be deliberate action to stop the bleeding out of this black population if we want to have black people left to give reparations to,” Brown said.
Brown also noted the city’s budget deficit. “They know there’s no money to pay,” Brown said. “So all they did was pay lip service. It’s not fair. It’s not honest.”
By voting to accept the proposal without any indication of how they would fund it, politicians can have it both ways, according to Brown.
“They offer handy fruits that seem like a victory, but you know that [lead to] more studies. And that’s another game. Another delaying tactic. It makes people frustrated until things wear off and then self-destruct. We have to stop this. It’s time for America to pay and process with substance, with integrity and accountability,” Brown said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, one of the authors of the plan explained that “the committee was not tasked with conducting a feasibility study. The task was to chronicle the damage and determine its value.”
Others believe the proposals are an important first step towards justice
Andre Perry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies racial and structural inequality, has written about the government’s obligation to pay reparations. He disagrees with the idea that San Francisco big items are a red herring.
“This argument about whether or not it’s a distraction or not doesn’t necessarily hold my ground because in many cases I hear people say that very serious ideas about reparations are fantastic or reckless. So I don’t necessarily jump when I hear more big numbers because people often make the same arguments for very rigorous analysis,” Perry told NPR.
“The mere idea of reparations is impossible for many.”
Perry has yet to read the details of San Francisco’s draft proposal. But he said more often than not, experts who write plans that include large sums of cash “recognize the depth of discrimination and the collective economic impact that many different discriminatory policies can have on a person over their lifetime. , but also of his family.”
So even when it may seem almost impossible for a municipality to pay this amount, it is imperative to have a record of this assessment, he added.
He acknowledges that Brown’s concerns are based on lessons learned from the failures of other federal and municipal efforts.
“In a place like San Francisco, you have much of what is, and I’ll put it in quotes, a progressive city in a ‘progressive state’ in quotes. And much of what can be presented may just appease the fantasies of a progressive left as theatre,” Perry said. “And that does no one any favors.”
But black communities seeking justice cannot operate from a place of fear, he said.
Other groups of people have succeeded in creating systems of redress for gross injustices. In the United States, Native Americans received land and billions of dollars for being forcibly exiled from their lands. Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II eventually received $1.5 billion in restitution. And the US government was instrumental in ensuring that Jews received reparations for the Holocaust.
If the proposal in San Francisco goes ahead, it will join other cities in taking a first step toward some form of local, state and federal reparations, Perry said.
“Exclusive and discriminatory policies didn’t start in Washington. They started in local municipalities,” he explained. “Things like redlining started in Baltimore, and they were eventually codified by the federal government. But they started locally. It is therefore important that local governments also begin to develop their restorative policies that will make their way to Washington, D.C.”