Every qualified Black adult would get payments totaling $5 million, personal debt and tax obligations would be eliminated, annual incomes of at least $97,000 would be guaranteed for 250 years, and San Francisco homes would cost merely $1 per family.
These are just a few of the suggestions made by a city-appointed reparations committee that was given the difficult task of figuring out what it would take to atone for centuries of American slavery and decades of systemic racism that keep Black Americans on the bottom rungs of health, education, and economic prosperity and overrepresented in prisons and the homeless population.
Tuesday’s first meeting before the city’s Board of Supervisors may hint at the board’s interest in moving through with a reparations plan that would be unparalleled in scope and complexity statewide.
It has been criticized for being both politically and financially untenable. According to a conservative analyst’s estimate, each non-Black household in the city would have to pay at least $600,000.
Given the city’s severe deficit and the state of the tech industry, several supervisors have said that San Francisco cannot currently afford to make any significant reparations payments; yet, they still want to examine the ideas and think about potential future solutions.
Any, all, or none of the suggestions may be changed, adopted, or rejected by the board.
The members of the reparations committee, however, disagree with the notion that they should work out how to pay for it because they believe their findings to be a realistic estimate of what it would cost to start repairing the long-lasting damage caused by slavery and discrimination.
“We are damaged,” said Eric McDonnell, chair of San Francisco’s African American Reparations Advisory Group. “The judge would not turn to us and say, ‘Help them find out how to make this work,’ if the judge found it in our favor.”
Cities and institutions are increasingly considering paying reparations for slavery.
California established the first reparations task team in 2020 and is currently attempting to determine how much is owed.
The federal level has not embraced the concept.
How many of San Francisco’s less than 50,000 African residents would qualify is unclear. Potential requirements include being a city resident for a specific amount of time and being descended from someone “incarcerated for the disastrous War on Drugs.”
The payouts, according to critics, are absurd in a state and city that never kept Black people as slaves. Generally speaking, opponents argue that taxpayers who never owned slaves shouldn’t be required to pay money to individuals who were not held as slaves.
Advocates claim that perspective ignores a wealth of information and historical evidence demonstrating how, even after U.S. slavery was abolished in 1865, government policies and practices continued to disproportionately imprison Black people, deny them access to loans for homes and businesses, and limit where they could live and work.
According to McDonnell, there is still a covert attitude that Black people don’t deserve this. “When you consider the harm, the sum itself, $5 million, is low.”
A municipal reparations plan would never have enough funding, according to Justin Hansford, professor at the Howard University School of Law, but he still supports any efforts to “genuinely, really, authentically” make things right. And money is part of that, he added.
Almost 50 years ago, black people comprised more than 13% of San Francisco’s population; today, they contain fewer than 6% of the city’s population and 38% of its homeless people.
Before being cleared out by government redevelopment in the 1960s, the Fillmore District thrived with Black-owned nightclubs and businesses.
The head of the San Francisco Republican Party, John Dennis, opposes reparations but says he would favor a serious discussion on the issue.
He does not see the $5 million payments under discussion by the board as one.
This discussion we’re having in San Francisco is entirely lighthearted. They didn’t do any analysis; they just tossed a figure up,” Dennis remarked. That appears absurd, and this city is the only one simultaneously.
The 15-member reparations committee was established by the board in late 2020, under the direction of Supervisor Shamann Walton, months after California Governor Gavin Newsom approved a statewide task force amid controversy over the death of a Black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer.
The board may instruct staff to undertake additional research, draft legislation, or arrange other meetings at the hearing on Tuesday. In June, the committee must provide its final report.
The task force in California is still debating suggestions, including financial compensation.
The Legislature must receive its report by July 1st. It will then be left to lawmakers to develop and enact legislation, which is frequently laborious.
Limiting reparations to the descendants of Black people who lived in the country in the 19th century was a divisive decision reached by the state panel in March.
Some reparations proponents claimed the strategy overlooked the ongoing harms that Black immigrants experience.
A person must be at least 18 years old and have at least ten years of documented public documentation identifying them as “Black/African American” to qualify under San Francisco’s draft recommendation.
Moreover, applicants must fulfill two of another eight requirements; however, this list is subject to change.
These requirements include being a San Franciscan native or immigrant who has lived there for at least 13 years, being uprooted from the city between 1954 and 1973 due to urban renewal, or being descended from someone who was, attending the city’s public schools before their full desegregation, or having ancestors who were enslaved in the United States before 1865.
The first American city to pay reparations was the Chicago suburb of Evanston. The city provided funding to eligible individuals for home repairs, down payments, and interest or late fees associated with the city-owned property.
A task team to explore reparations was approved by the Boston City Council in December.