The state Legislature’s approval of a commission to study reparations doesn’t mean the topic is going away anytime soon.
That legislation (A.7691/S.1163) has yet to be sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her approval, but another bill has been introduced creating a new commission and an appropriation of $72 million in the first year if it becomes law. Assemblywoman Nikki Lucas, D-Brooklyn, has introduced A.7828, the “New York State American Freedmen Equity Task Force on Reparations Remedies Act.” The legislation would acknowledge New York state’s role in the institution of slavery; create the New York State American Freedmen Equity Task Force on Reparations Remedies to examine all aspects of slavery and subsequent racial, social and economic discrimination against American freedmen and determine compensation and repair. It also creates a state Freedmen’s Bureau charged with the distribution of reparations and reparative justice if those measures are passed by the state Legislature.
Lucas proposes spending $50 million for the New York Freedmen’s Bureau each year and $22 million on the task force.
“The chattel slavery that flourished in the United States constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of Africans’ life, liberty, citizenship rights, and cultural heritage and denied them the fruits of their own labor,” Lucas wrote in her legislative justification. “A preponderance of scholarly, legal and community evidentiary documentation, as well as popular culture markers, constitute the basis for inquiry into the ongoing effects of the institution of slavery and its legacy embodied in persistent systemic structures of discrimination on living descendants of persons enslaved in the United States, American Freedman, and society in the United States. Contrary to what many people believe, slavery was not just a southern institution. Prior to the American Revolution, there were more enslaved Africans in New York City than in any other city except Charleston, South Carolina. During this period, slaves accounted for 20% of the population of New York and approximately 40% of colonial New York households owned slaves.”
LENGTHY, PASSIONATE DEBATE
Nothing will happen with Lucas’ legislation until the new state legislative session begins in January. If the June 8 approval of a commission to study reparations is any indication, the debate on Lucas’ bill if it reaches the floor will be long and passionate. The state Assembly debated A.7691/S.1163 for more than three hours, with several members of the Assembly on both sides of the political aisle giving their thoughts. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, and state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, all voted against the reparations commission.
Goodell questioned how a reparations system could be done fairly, including land that was taken from Native Americans. One of those areas is Chautauqua County, which was once home to the Seneca Nation.
“I wanted to focus on where we have I think bipartisan and I think unanimous agreement,” Goodell said. “Everyone in this chamber on both sides of the aisle, I think, are fully committed to ensuring that every New Yorker has a fair and equal opportunity to succeed in life, to maximize their human potential. And I know that all of us are committed to ensuring that every move forward that we address in a strong an compassionate way any impediments to anyone achieving their maximum potential. The concern that I and some others have is that this bill focuses in part on what we can do moving forward, for which I have complete support, but in part in looking backwards. And I support looking backwards to the extent it helps us understand how we need to move forward. But our focus should always be forward. The call for reparations creates that challenge for several of us.”
As has been reported previously in The Post-Journal, A.7691/S.1163 gives one year for a report to be finalized by the state Community Commission on Reparations Remedies to submit its report to Hochul and the state Legislature. Those recommendations are non-binding and the state Legislature would not have to take further action once the study is completed.
“Some may argue that the past is the past and that we should move on,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, D-Valley Stream and chair of the state Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. “But how can we move on when the echoes of history still reverberate in the lives of millions? How can we build a future on a past stained with injustice? … Today New York will take a step forward in dismantling the system of barriers that hold back so many New Yorkers. Together, we are one day, one time closer to healing.”
California has undertaken a similar study by its own commission, which wrapped two years of work on June 29 with the official submission of a report that documents the state’s role in perpetuating discrimination against Black residents and suggests dozens of ways to atone, according to the Associated Press. The report heads to lawmakers who will be responsible for turning policy recommendations into legislation. Reparations will not happen until lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom agree, the AP reports. The recommendations include a formal apology to descendants of people enslaved in the U.S. and financial compensation for harms descendants have suffered, such as overpolicing and housing discrimination. The panel also recommended the state create a new agency to oversee reparations efforts.
The Associated Press reports the California commission did not recommend a fixed dollar amount for financial redress, but endorsed methodologies by economists for calculating what is owed for decades of overpolicing, disproportionate incarceration and housing discrimination. Initial calculations pegged the potential cost to California at more than $800 billion — more than 2.5 times the state’s $300 billion annual budget — although that cost was reduced to $500 billion in a later report without explanation. The task force narrowly voted to limit individual financial redress to residents who can document lineage from Black people who were in the U.S. in the 19th century, thereby excluding more recent immigrants.
William Darity, a professor of public policy and African and African American Studies at Duke University said it’s virtually impossible for states to meet the potentially hefty payouts, instead calling on the federal government to take responsibility since it has the financial capacity to pay true reparations. Darity’s comments were included in a recent Associated Press article.
“My deeper fear with all of these piecemeal projects is that they actually will become a block against federal action because there will be a number of people who will say there’s no need for a federal program,” Darity said. “If you end up settling for state and local initiatives, you settle for much less than what is owed.”