This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Rachael Vasquez:Can you remind us what the task force has been up to in the last year and a half?
Annelise Finney: This task force is now about three quarters of the way through its work. During the first year, its big focus was on documenting the history and impact of anti-Black racist policies in California. They produced a 500-page report, and it’s one of the most comprehensive government documents studying the impact of anti-Black policies. It’s pretty amazing, and it’s available on the Department of Justice website (PDF).
Now, in the second year, they’ve been digging into what reparations for these harms should really look like. And they’re supposed to produce recommendations in four months, by July 1 — a quickly approaching deadline.
The first area of reparations that they’re looking at is compensation. That’s direct payments to people who are the descendants of people who were enslaved in the U.S. and who now live in California. They don’t have an exact number for how many people would be receiving this money or how much it would be, but they’re still working on it. One proposal they are considering is to create a new state agency that would be called the Freedmen Affairs Agency that would, among other things, handle doling out these payments.
The other form of reparations that they’re primarily looking at are ways to stop harm moving forward, and the way they’re hoping to do that is by changing state policy. They have dozens of policy recommendations on the table right now. One is to repeal or amend Proposition 209 — a California law that prohibits policies that benefit or discriminate against a specific racial group. It was originally passed in 1996 and was reaffirmed by voters in 2020. Task force member Donald Tamaki laid out the simple contradiction that Prop. 209 presents when it comes to addressing racial inequality at the meeting on Saturday, saying, “Obviously this thing was created by hate and racism, and now you can’t consider race to fix it.”
This weekend the task force has been talking about how to get its recommendations turned into law. Tell us what that process would look like.
Each recommendation that the task force makes would have to be taken up by individual lawmakers. Some of the recommendations might be pretty broad, so lawmakers will have to refine down the proposals and work out details the task force wasn’t able to get to. Bills will then have to be written, lobbied for and passed through the [state] Legislature in order for the reparations proposals to become a reality for people.
Task force member Rev. Amos Brown emphasized during the meeting yesterday that these recommendations still have a long way to go. He said, “We still have miles to go and promises to keep before we fall asleep, if anything’s gonna become a reality, and for meaningful, significant change in the lives of Black folk in the state of California.”
I’m guessing a fair amount of public support would be needed to pass these pieces of legislation. What is the task force doing to encourage public support for their recommendations?
One big thing they’re doing is working on public education programs. That means taking all of the information that was in that report and making sure people in California actually know the history. One way they’re doing that is by trying to develop a curriculum that would get this information into schools. They’ve also talked about creating a grant program that would support documentaries and public art projects. But all of that hasn’t happened yet.
One big thing that’s been coming up in public comments during the meeting yesterday and today is the lack of a real public awareness about what the task force is doing.
One public commenter this morning who identified himself as John Mud spoke to this feeling, saying, “I talk to people every day about reparations, and I bring up this task force, and no one knows about it.” Ultimately, whether these recommendations are passed will come down to whether Californians support them. A lot of people feel like there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure people know that the task force exists, that they know about the work that it’s doing, and that they are also on board to support these proposals as they move through the Legislature.
What’s next for this task force?
They have a few more in-person meetings before the deadline in June. There’ll be one in March, another in May, and then a final meeting in June when the recommendations are finalized. There’s also a bill in the Legislature right now to extend the work of the task force for an additional year. That wouldn’t change any of the deadlines. The final recommendations would still be due in June, but it would give the task force members more time to work together in order to shepherd these proposals through the state Legislature, and potentially into law.
KQED’s Annelise Finney, Rachael Vasquez, Beth LaBerge and Attila Pelit contributed to this report.
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