San Francisco OKs task force to study Black reparations

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco officials on Tuesday approved a task force that will study financial compensation, community programs and other ways to make reparations to the descendants of slaves, becoming the largest city to take such a step.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to appoint the 15-member African American Reparations Advisory Committee, which includes Black people who have been displaced from San Francisco, have been incarcerated or have experienced homelessness, among other criteria.

“The appointments of this reparations advisory committee is an historical event, as I am unaware of any other legislated body in place to prioritize injustices and create a true reparations plan in a package for Black people,” said Board President Shamann Walton, who introduced the proposal.

In the next two years, the committee will have to submit a final draft that according to the legislation should determine “the scope of and eligibility for a citywide reparations program … to make whole those who have been wronged or who continue to suffer harm from past wrongs.”

The committee will seek input from the African American community on ways to improve education, housing, violence prevention, workforce development and other areas.

San Francisco once had a thriving Black population. But gentrification and high cost of living have pushed them out. African Americans are now 5% of the population but 35% of the homeless population. The average income for a Black household is $31,000, compared with $110,000 for white families, according to the mayor’s office.

“San Francisco has the opportunity to lead the way in addressing the harm that far too many African Americans families have experienced,” said Sheryl Davis, director of the Human Rights Commission.

Since last summer’s reckoning over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death, state lawmakers in California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Oregon — where Democrats control the legislatures — introduced or hoped to revive proposals to study the possibility.

But their efforts have mostly stalled. California is the only state to approve a commission to study reparations statewide and how they might work.

In March, Evanston, Illinois, became one of the first U.S. cities to offer Black residents reparations. The city council in Asheville, North Carolina, voted unanimously last July in favor of reparations for Black residents that would take the form of helping businesses and providing housing and health care. Other local governments, including in Amherst, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, and Iowa City, Iowa, are considering whether or how to grant some form of reparations.

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