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California’s First-in-Nation Reparations Report Urges Action on Wealth, Education, Criminal Justice

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Image Credit: California State Library

We speak with the chair of the California Reparations Task Force, which is the first in the United States and has just released a landmark report calling for “comprehensive reparations” for Black people harmed by a historical system of state-sanctioned oppression. While the state report is unprecedented, reparations are “first and foremost a federal responsibility,” says attorney Kamilah Moore.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to California. The first state to establish a reparations task force for Black Americans has just released a landmark report detailing the suffering descendants of enslaved people long after slavery was abolished. It also focuses on repair, going forward, in areas like political disenfranchisement, housing, the wealth gap, education and criminal justice.

The task force gathered testimony from experts and regular hearings. This is Susan Burton, formerly incarcerated activist, founder of A New Way of Life, testifying about how her 5-year-old son was hit and killed by a police car. She said police never acknowledged what they had done. She started to use alcohol and drugs to cope with her overwhelming grief. For the next 15 years, Burton was arrested over six times.

SUSAN BURTON: I was a grieving mother, and I needed help. I did not need punishment. I learned that the justice system responded differently to Black people, Black women. I saw people, you know, get court cards and get community service and get deferred to treatment and what have you, but that did not happen in South L.A. I started A New Way of Life reentry project one year after leaving treatment. And my vision was to build a home in South L.A. that could help women like me transition out of prisons and jails and have the space to heal and build power and opportunity.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Kamilah Moore. She is chairperson of the California Reparations Task Force, which has just released its first report, another one coming next year.

Attorney Moore, thanks so much for being with us. I mean, this is a massive report. What is it? Like 500 pages. Can you talk about the significance of it, and it coming out in California?

KAMILAH MOORE: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for having me, Amy.

So, to the significance of the report, this 500-page report is the most extensive report cataloging the atrocities against the African American community, in particular, since the Kerner Commission on civil unrest, which we know was commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 after King’s assassination. And so, not only is this report 500 pages, 13 chapters long, each chapter there’s a state breakdown that talks about California’s specific role in perpetuating atrocities against the African American community, starting with enslavement, but in each chapter there’s also a nation or federal breakdown that clearly demonstrates the federal government’s responsibility for perpetuating harms against the African American community. And the conclusion of the report is reparations are due to the African American or American freedmen community, in particular, on a local, state and federal level.

AMY GOODMAN: People may be surprised when they hear you talk about slavery in California. Talk about California’s history with slavery, enslaving people.

KAMILAH MOORE: Right. So, as you pointed out in the introduction, we’ve been having a series of virtual public hearings because of the pandemic. So, early on in this process, in September —

AMY GOODMAN: Kamilah just froze. Kamilah Moore, again, an attorney and chairperson of the California Reparations Task Force. I was just asking her about California being a free state, where there wasn’t slavery, but the question of what is the involvement of California in slavery. Let me go to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre being asked about reparations last week.

REPORTER: A question for you about this report out of California on reparations. I was wondering if the president has seen it and if he would use it to guide any sort of executive action, since the last thing he did on reparations was say that he supported the study that Congress is potentially wanting?

PRESS SECRETARY KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, his stance on reparations and supporting the study hasn’t changed. I have not seen the California report. But his personal — his stance, policy stance, has not changed on reparations.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre being asked about reparations last week. We’re joined by Kamilah Moore, who is an attorney and a chairperson of the California Reparations Task Force, talking about the significance of this 500-page report. There’s going to be another report that comes out next year that recommends exactly what to do, but this focuses on many different areas of life when it comes to reparations. Just to read a quote from the report, it says, “Along with a dereliction of its duty to protect its Black citizens, direct federal, state and local government actions continued to enforce the racist lies created to justify slavery. These laws and government-supported cultural beliefs have since formed the foundation of innumerable modern laws, policies, and practices across the nation.” While we got you back on, Kamilah, I was just reading from your report. But talk about the fugitive slave laws.

KAMILAH MOORE: Right. So, the Fugitive Slave Act was implemented by the California state Legislature in 1852. And the implications of that were, you know, if you were a free Black person living in the state of California under the Fugitive Slave Act, you could be deported to be reenslaved in the South or, in some instances, reenslaved on California soil.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about where you go from here. You’re going to have this series of reports. You have the next one next year. What do reparations look like?

KAMILAH MOORE: Well, that’s a great question, and that’s where the task force is going next. So, this past year I’ve characterized as a study phase, where we’ve listened to, like I said, personal and expert testimony, public comment. And we’ve catalogued all of what we’ve learned over the past year in this historic 500-page report, and we’ve also contained some preliminary recommendations in there.

But the next and final year of our task force efforts is really dedicated to the development stage, where we’re having intentional conversations as a nine-member task force about, OK, given what we’ve learned, given the evidence that we’ve collected, what does reparations look like? And I will say that our final comprehensive reparations plan, which will be in our final report due next summer, those recommendations must comport with international human rights law standards. And under international law, there are five forms of reparations.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the record — the precedent-setting nature of this report, in the entire country, not just California.

KAMILAH MOORE: Well, yes. You know, as so goes California, so goes the nation. That’s for many different progressive issues that have originated in California. And reparations for African Americans, or American freedmen in particular, are one of those progressive ideas that we hope sets a precedent not only for other states but, of course, for the federal government, because reparations for the African American community for the institution of slavery, the transatlantic slave trade, in the afterlife, is, first and foremost, a federal responsibility. And that’s why we have in our preliminary recommendations to transmit this historic report to the Biden administration, which they’ve acknowledged the day that it was released, in hopes that they create a commission on the federal level for African Americans, or American freedmen specifically.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kamilah Moore, we want to thank you for being with us, attorney, chairperson of the California Reparations Task Force. We’ll link to your 500-page precedent-setting reparations report.

That does it for our show. Again, on Thursday, Democracy Now! will be live-streaming this historic January 6 insurrection hearing, the House committee, the first of the series of hearings. We’ll be live-streaming at 8:00 Eastern [Daylight] Time at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon, Juan Carlos Dávila. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude, Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

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