California's Reparations Task Force Met in Sacramento. Here's What You Need to Know

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Rows of men and women sit in attendance listening intently to speakers during a California Reparations Task Force meeting. Many video cameras on tripods can be seen in the background.
A crowd listens during opening remarks at a California Reparations Task Force meeting in Sacramento on March 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans met in Sacramento for two days this weekend, bringing it one step closer to finalizing recommendations for the nation’s first-ever statewide plan for reparations for Black people.

KQED’s Annelise Finney, who was in Sacramento, shared what was talked about and what’s next for the task force in an interview with KQED’s Rachael Vasquez.

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.”

A older African American man in a black suit with a top hat holds a sign in a conference hall surrounded by people. The sign reads "CA Reparations Now 2023."
Morris Griffin, also known as Big Money Griff, a community activist, speaks during public comment at a California Reparations Task Force meeting in Sacramento on March 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.”

A panel of people with screens behind them face a seated crowd of people in a conference hall. In the aisle, in the right of the frame, people line up to address the panel.
California Reparations Task Force members listen to public comments during a meeting in Sacramento on March 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

A line of people, all African American, in a conference hall look toward the podium. The woman closest to the camera is older with long gray braids; the woman behind her is much younger, with long black braids, an orange beanie, and an orange sweatshirt. Three men stand behind her, from left to right: One man is middle-aged, wearing a black and red sweatshirt and dark sunglasses; the next is older and wearing a brown fedora with a black ribbon; and the third is tallest, with shoulder-length gray locs, dark sunglasses, and a bright red zip-up winter coat.
People line up to speak during public comment at a California Reparations Task Force meeting in Sacramento on March 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

A middle-aged African American woman, wearing black-framed glasses and a shoulder-length black bob, a white blouse under a beige cardigan, and a gold and beaded necklace, gestures with both hands as she speaks into a small microphone at a dais. People wait in line behind her, to speak next.
Gloria Pierrot-Dyer speaks about her family from Allensworth during public comment at a California Reparations Task Force meeting in Sacramento on March 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Three older African American men stand having a conversation. The man on the far left, with a neat gray beard, wears a black baseball cap with colorful splotches of pink, yellow and green, watching the other two men speak. The man in the middle, mostly bald, wears a gray suit of a very light plaid, an ochre pocket handkerchief, and an ochre-and-navy-striped tie. He faces the last man, on the far right, who is speaking and seems to be resting his right hand on the back of the man in the suit. He is the tallest, bald and with a white goatee and glasses, and a black hoodie with an outline of California in white that says "CA Reparations Now 2023," and a sticker name tag on his chest.
State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) speaks with attendees during a California Reparations Task Force meeting in Sacramento on March 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

KQED’s Annelise Finney, Rachael Vasquez, Beth LaBerge and Attila Pelit contributed to this report.