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California panel calls for billions in reparations for descendants of slaves


A California task force is calling for what may amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in reparations for slavery. The state legislature established this group, and it's recommending payments for the descendants of the enslaved, both for the injustice to their ancestors and for discrimination in more recent times. NPR's Sandhya Dirks joins us. Good morning.


INSKEEP: What does this group of nine lawmakers and experts have to say?

DIRKS: The panelists' final report is long - about 40 chapters long - and it's a reflection of the work the panel has been doing, which has included hearing a lot of testimony from experts and people talking about what they've been through. They've heard about California's fugitive slave law, which was harsher than federal law. They've heard from Black families who still have the deeds to land that was taken from them.

The report draws a direct line from slavery to today, telling a story about how Black labor was not just extracted to create white wealth, but how Black wealth was continuously stolen and stunted, using patterns of discrimination that play out decade after decade. So first up, the report says, you know, it's time for an apology. And there's lots to atone for, including big systemic issues like how California police disproportionately stop, injure and kill Black people, and then they get into the money, real cash payments.

INSKEEP: How do they put a dollar amount on all of these different incidents over the course of generations?

DIRKS: There's this line in the report that really stands out to me. It says, the task of calculating the cost of tears and blood and human rights violations is a challenge. I think calling it a challenge is even an understatement, because it's not just the loss of lives and land. It's also about looking at the loss of so much potential. The task force has actually worked with some economists to come up with a formula which in part has to do with people's exposures to these five categories, what they call atrocities.

So those are health harms, mass incarceration and overpolicing, housing discrimination, unjust property takings by eminent domain and devaluation of African American businesses. The report also notes that that list is not exhaustive, but it's what they have quantifiable data for. The amount that they are suggesting is going to be different for each person based on how they were impacted and for how long. So at the very highest end, someone who has been impacted by all these things for the longest possible period of time could be eligible for around $1.2 million.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note this is a recommendation, not a final decision. But if the state were to pay, who would be eligible for that kind of payment?

DIRKS: So last year, the task force voted to make these reparations lineage-based, which means they're eligible to direct descendants of enslaved people. But that's still a contentious point - it comes up at every meeting - which those in favor of lineage-based reparations say that they're afraid will be watered down. Another thing I want to point out is I've been seeing increasing misinformation and racist messaging around reparations from some people on the right. There's been some misreporting on the amount of money. There's also been an increasing amount of racism about reparations on Twitter and on other social media sites. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that while 77% of Black respondents supported reparations, only 18% of white respondents did.

INSKEEP: I feel the need to just underline one more time here. We're saying this is reparations for slavery. But the panel has looked at generations of misdeeds, and it could involve something that happened three years ago. Is that right?

DIRKS: Absolutely. It's not just about slavery. It's about the legacies of systemic racism that extend far beyond that.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sandhya Dirks, thanks so much.

DIRKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Sandhya Dirks
Sandhya Dirks is the race and equity reporter at KQED and the lead producer of On Our Watch, a new podcast from NPR and KQED about the shadow world of police discipline. She approaches race and equity not as a beat, but as a fundamental lens for all investigative and explanatory reporting.