The reparations task force created a year ago in California by Gov. Gavin Newsom voted Tuesday to compensate only descendants of blacks enslaved in 19th century U.S. slavery, narrowly rejecting a proposal to include all blacks. 

With a vote on Tuesday, March 29, split at 5-4, and after an at-times tense debate, California’s first reparations task force ultimately chose not to base compensation on race and only limit it to lineage.

In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating the two-year reparations task force, making California the only state to move forward with a plan to study the institution of slavery and its harms, ABC 7 News noted.

So far, a year into the commission’s existence, it has yet to put a reparations plan in place, but it is likely to shape reparations discussions across the country.

Near the end of the intense hour-long debate among the nine commission members, the Rev. Amos Brown, vice chairman of the task force, pleaded with them to come up with a clear and concrete definition that day of who would be eligible for compensation, instead of analyzing the issue for months. 

“Please, please, please, I beg us tonight, take the first step,” Rev. Brown said. He further urged his colleagues to develop recommendations for the real world. 

“Are we going to act like we live in a country where there are no political realities, no laws?” asked Rev. Brown. Or, “Are we just going to go through an exercise and end up at the end of the day coming up with no measurable outcomes whatsoever?” KTVU Fox 2 noted.

The task force had been at a crossroads up to the vote, with some members in favor and others opposing the inclusion of the proposed historic reparations of all blacks, regardless of their lineage.

Those in favor of a genealogical approach to developing the compensation plan rather than a race-based approach argued that the former has a better chance of surviving a legal challenge.

Meanwhile, other commission members argued that reparations should include all black people in the U.S. who suffer systemic racism.

In this regard, member Reginald Jones-Sawyer, who voted against limiting eligibility, said that while descendants of slaves are the priority, the group must help stop continued racism and prevent future harm.

But on that point, task force chairwoman Kamilah Moore said expanding eligibility would create difficulties in making reparations and exceeded the committee’s purpose.

“That is going to aggrieve the victims of the institution of slavery, which are the direct descendants of the enslaved people in the United States,” she said. “It goes against the spirit of the law as written.”

Compensation could include free college education, assistance in buying homes and starting businesses, and grants to churches and community organizations.

Critics of the proposed reparations plan say California has no obligation to pay since it did not practice slavery or enforce Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks from whites in southern states.

The task force plans to hold several meetings through June to fine-tune the plan and give its final recommendations before it is presented for the Legislature to consider signing into law in July 2023.

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