In summary

Mayors, including Los Angeles and Sacramento, form reparations and equity coalition on new federal holiday to push for national reparations. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti also announces the formation of an advisory committee, paving the way for a local reparations pilot project.

Eleven mayors, including two in California, announced today their commitment to support federal reparations legislation and establish pilot programs for Black residents in their cities as part of a new nationwide coalition. 

The mayors of Los Angeles and Sacramento will join nine other mayors, from cities as populous as Denver to tiny Tullahassee, Okla., one of the oldest surviving Black towns in the West, on the Mayors Organized for Reparations & Equity coalition. 

The Los Angeles mayor and Black members of the city council will also convene a seven-member Reparations Advisory Committee, which will recommend the goals and format of a reparations pilot program in Los Angeles and make suggestions on how to pay for it.

“We want to empower the national movement to have real data and real results, to actually start putting our money where our mouth is and to get serious about addressing racism in America and the legacy of slavery in America,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told CalMatters in an interview. 

On Thursday, President Biden signed a bill establishing Juneteenth, the date marking the end of slavery, as a federal holiday being observed today, which he hopes adds momentum to discussions and recommendations underway across the nation to address racial injustices going back centuries. 

Juneteenth builds momentum for reparations

Earlier this month, a nine-member state reparations task force met for the first time to study the consequences of slavery and systemic racism against African Americans in California. The state committee is planning to spend the first year studying the lasting impacts of slavery, while recommending how the state should make amends in its second year.

More than 2.5 million people identify as Black or African American in California, about 6.5% of the overall population. But by many measures, Blacks have lower attainment on education, homeownership and wealth. They account for more than 40% of California’s homeless population and experience worse health outcomes.

Reparations advisory commission

Garcetti selected four of the seven-member advisory commission, including Michael Lawson, a former ambassador and president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League; Charisse Bremond-Weaver, president and CEO of Brotherhood Crusade; Mark Wilson, founding executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Community Development; and Khansa Jones-Muhammad, co-chair of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assembly of American Slavery Descendants.

Black members of the city council members named Mandla Kayise, an expert on economic and land use development; Katrina VanderWoude, president of Los Angeles Trade Technical College; and Cheryl Harris, a leading scholar of critical race theory and systemic discrimination at UCLA School of Law.

“I think everybody says most Americans say they want to do something about (reparations), but when it comes down to it, our country gets paralyzed very quickly and polarized very quickly,” Garcetti said. “So how do we move from being paralyzed paralyzed and polarized to empowered and producing?”

After the killing of George Floyd sparked a summer of national protests against police brutality, some cities have tackled reparations through reinvestment in African American communities. But direct payments remain controversial. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only one in 10 white respondents across the country supported cash reparations, while half of Black respondents endorsed it. Opponents have argued that it would take money from a group of people who never contributed to slavery and give it to another group who never experienced slavery.

This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

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Nigel Duara joined CalMatters in 2020 as a Los Angeles-based reporter covering poverty and inequality issues for our California Divide collaboration. Previously, he served as a national and climate correspondent...