The local reparations movement continues to spread across the country. Following the lead of California, New York will create a commission to consider reparations to address the lingering effects of slavery on its Black residents.
On June 8, the New York state assembly and Senate passed a bill to form a reparations commission to examine the extent to which the state supported slavery and the persistent economic, political, and educational disparities its Black residents face today, the Associated Press reported.
“We want to make sure we are looking at slavery and its legacies,” state Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said. “This is about beginning the process of healing our communities. There still is generational trauma that people are experiencing. This is just one step forward.”
In the19620s, enslaved Africans who first arrived at the southern tip of Manhattan Island helped build the infrastructure of New York City, the bill stated. Enslaved Africans in New York were granted freedom in 1817, but it took a decade for the statute to actually be implemented, ABC 7 News reported.
New York’s commission recommendations could include monetary compensation for Black New Yorkers, would be non-binding, meaning the legislature wouldn’t be required to act on them.
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the legislation is “historic.”
The bill was passed by the State Assembly after about three hours after a heated debate . The state Senate passed the measure hours later. It will be sent to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul for consideration.
New York is following the lead of California, which in 2020 became the first state to form a reparations task force. The task force recommended a formal apology from the state on its legacy of racism and discriminatory policies and the creation of an agency to provide a wide range of services for Black residents. The task force came up with a tier of recommended cash reparations. The California reparations task force estimated that the state would be responsible for more than $500 billion due to decades of over-policing, mass incarceration, and redlining that kept Black families from receiving loans and living in certain neighborhoods.
The New York legislation would create a commission that would examine the extent to which the federal and state government supported the institution of slavery. It would also address persistent economic, political, and educational disparities experienced by Black people in the state today.
There was opposition to the New York bill. “I’m concerned we’re opening a door that was closed in New York State almost 200 years ago,” said Republican state Assembly Member Andy Gooddell during floor debates on the bill. Gooddell, who voted against the bill, said he supports existing efforts to bring equal opportunity to all and would like to “continue on that path rather than focus on reparations.”
The New York commission would be required to deliver a report one year after their first meeting.
Other states that have considered studying reparations include New Jersey and Vermont. Chicago suburb Evanston became the first city to make reparations available to Black residents through a $10 million housing project in 2021.
On the federal level, a decades-old proposal to create a commission studying reparations has stalled in Congress.
Some reparations advocates stress that reparations should only be given out o a federal level, as the federal government would be the only body that could pay the amount due to Black Americans.
Dr. William Darity, a professor of public policy and African and African American Studies at Duke University, said even calling the state bill reparations is “presumptuous” since it’s virtually impossible for states to meet the potentially hefty payouts.
“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.”
In this Aug. 28, 2020, file photo, Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., raises her fist as she speaks during the March on Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. California lawmakers are setting up a task force to study and make recommendations for reparations to African-Americans, particularly the descendants of slaves, as the nation struggles again with civil rights and unrest following the latest shooting of a Black man by police. The state Senate supported creating the nine-member commission on a bipartisan 33-3 vote Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP, File)