Reparations bill gets support from NY Assemblymember Lucas

Establishing a New York State Community Commission on Reparations Remedies as actually becoming law is still in a waiting mode.

Passed in the state assembly as bill number A07691, the legislation awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.

This was a polemical bill, authored by State Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages, who chairs the assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, & Asian Legislative Caucus. The bill was not universally accepted, even by caucus members, until it was rewritten to specifically identify the community to receive reparations.

Assemblymember Nikki Lucas told the Amsterdam News that she was not initially willing to support Solages’s bill. 

In an impassioned speech before the bill’s final vote, Lucas had declared: “It is essential to advocate for lineage-based reparations to ensure justice and equity for American Freedmen who are direct descendants of enslaved individuals in the United States. Reparations should be targeted toward those who directly experienced harm and their descendants due to slavery and its enduring effects.”

Lucas felt Solages’s bill was not specific enough about specifying that the Community Commission would study ways to endorse reparations for the descendants of people who suffered chattel slavery and later Jim Crow discrimination in the United States.

Solages’s bill had to make clear that this was not going to be a reparations commission that would factor in the concerns of all Americans of African descent, Lucas said. 

Lucas had drawn up a separate bill to create a New York State American Freedmen Equity Task Force on Reparations Remedies. Her bill was designed to “[examine] all aspects of slavery, subsequent de jure and de facto racial, social, and economic discrimination against American [F]reedmen and the impact of these forces on living American [F]reedmen.” 

“This is more lineage-based, not race-based,” Lucas explained. “I wanted to make sure that it aligned with constitutional principles of equal treatment. Without having a lineage-based community of eligibility, other groups like Jewish and Chinese and Middle Eastern groups would be able to participate in reparations.” 

Assemblymembers Ari Brown (R-Cedarhurst), who is Jewish, and Lester Chang (R-Brooklyn), who is of Chinese descent, had each pointed out on the assembly floor that their communities could also participate in reparations. Brown reportedly noted that he has family members “of African descent” and Chang spoke about how Chinese Americans were forced into indentured servitude in the mid-19th century.

“And that was exactly my point,” Lucas said. “That was my exact thing: I referenced Elon Musk.” The tech billionaire was born in South Africa. “Without defining what African descent was and without defining a specificity, these are the things that you’re risking when putting together a very broad-scope bill like this.

“It would have watered down the purpose of a bill like this, which is intended to repair damage. I believe that, for me, after my speech and after clearly explaining things during the session, those backroom discussions of why it should be so broad…came to a head on the floor, with people recognizing. A lot of my colleagues were talking about their personal experiences with their great-grandmother or their grandmother and wanting to repair some of the wrongs. Once the sponsor herself acknowledged and responded on the assembly floor that the Commission would in fact conduct a study that included lineage-based reparations, I felt like I was able to change my vote.”

Lucas represents the Brooklyn neighborhoods of East New York, Starrett City, Brownsville, and Canarsie. She talked about how New York state once played a major role in facilitating the enslavement of African people. New York City-based companies like New York Life Insurance Company, Aetna, JPMorgan Chase, Domino Sugar, United States Life Insurance Company of New York, Citibank, Brown Brothers Harriman, and Columbia University were each financially buttressed by revenue from the labor of enslaved Black people. Even after the official end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1808, New York City remained a hub of illegal slave trading until the 1860s.

“These are the reasons why it was important that New York State be one of the leads in having a reparations bill,” Lucas added.

“I wish that the language was much tighter,” she said. “I wish that there was more specificity within the bill. But we’re here and these are the cards we’re dealt. Once the acknowledgment of the intention of the author of this bill was actually displayed on the assembly floor, I was slightly satisfied that we would at least have the beginning of a repairing of those who have been enslaved on American soil.”

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