Ideas are bubbling among Western policymakers for immediate reparations or financial compensation for descendants of American slavery, such as zero-interest loans for homes and businesses.
Last week, in a Las Vegas-based webinar led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLU), local leaders joined a national conversation about the bloody and hidden history of American slavery to discuss whether black people in Nevada should receive reparations.
“This country itself has received reparations payments from, from all countries, from Haiti,” Rodney Smith, a retired Air Force veteran and local community organizer, said during the meeting. August 18 event. “So reparations is not a new concept. This is not new in America either. The difference is whether or not the country will pay reparations for those people and their descendants who were enslaved and literally built this country.
The Nevada Legislature has not followed a formal path to study reparation options, but local leaders have said they plan to start considering immediate forms of compensation that will not come from federal money to kick off the process.
Panelists said ‘reparations’ for the descendants of American slaves may seem triggering because people are misinformed about the history of slave labor which historians say made America one of the “major world economies”.
“Reparations shouldn’t be something that triggers us in a negative way, but it should be a call to action for all of us who believe in the fairness of this country,” Smith said.
A 1989 reparations bill called HR 40 recently resurfaced in Congress when Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-TX) reintroduced it in January 2021. To date, 196 Reps have signed on as co-sponsors. , including Nevada representatives Dina Titus (D-NV) and Steven Horsford (D-NV).
This year, more than 350 national groups, including the National Organization for Women, the Japanese American Citizens’ League, and a host of black organizations like the NAACP, kicked off Black History Month by urging Congress, in a letter, to adopt HR 40. The groups include civilian human rights lawyers, religious leaders, activists and celebrities.
According to the letter, several states and cities are currently focused on reparations proposals, including Providence, Vermont; Tullahassee, Oklahoma; Detroit, Michigan, as well as Georgetown University.
“It would be sheer irony if the federal government, which sanctioned the kidnappings and human trafficking that slavery entailed, and upheld subsequent anti-black laws and institutions, continued to lag behind,” they wrote. written in the letter addressed to the United States. Heads of house.
The bill, which received only preliminary legislative action and did not receive a full House vote, would create a 15-member congressional commission to study the effects of the slavery and discriminatory policies against African Americans and recommend appropriate remedies, including reparations. . If put to a vote and passed, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the implementation of the bill would take about five years, cost $20 million, and create civil and criminal penalties for failure to cooperate with the committee.
Smith, the opening moderator, told the 53 webinar attendees that for at least 250 years, black people have contributed to American labor, science, and knowledge without compensation, followed by years of wage theft, amid long-standing brutal conditions and distortion of that history.
“There is a hole in the debt and someone should pay,” Smith said. “And the first part of that payment is acknowledging that it happened.”
The California approach
The conversation, held by local civil rights groups and progressive organizations to educate the Nevada public, included panelists Lilith Baran, policy officer at the ACLU of Nevada, Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II , and Don Tamaki of the California Reparations Task Force.
In May 2020, Shirley Weber, then Assemblyman, now California Secretary of State, passed landmark legislation creating a task force to study a path to reparations for Black Californians who are descendants of American slaves. The measure was introduced in the California Legislature following the public killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, which sparked global protests against anti-black racism.
Tamaki said no law protected the property and businesses of black Californians for hundreds of years and slavery occurred there, along with racial violence and legal discrimination that led to displacement of 20,000 black residents and the destruction of 883 black-owned businesses. He said there might be parallels in Nevada history.
“As California entered the Union in 1850, as a non-slavery state, it was very complicit with slavers entering California and taking their human possessions with them,” Tamaki said. “California’s anti-slavery state constitution of 1849 meant little, because it was not a crime to keep someone enslaved. There were no laws to free slaves or to punish slaveholders. Or laws to protect African Americans from being kidnapped and enslaved, or re-enslaved.
He said California was a leader in racial covenants — contractual agreements that prohibited certain groups of people from buying or renting properties — and that by 1940, 80% of homes in Los Angeles contained “racial covenants prohibiting black families”.
Frederick Douglass, former enslaved abolitionist leader and writer, recounted his experience of American slavery in his 1845 book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, calling it “soul crushing” and “bloody”. He said the slavery system was so brutal that it made slave owners mentally inhuman.
“We are still undiagnosed with the results of slavery,” McCurdy said during the panel. “And we don’t even know why we walk around angry some days, and sometimes we don’t know why we walk around depressed. But we walk around with the baggage of our ancestors because they were never paid for the work they did.
He said immediate local remedies can include free college for black Americans, funding for “social-emotional” health programs, and zero-interest loans for homes and businesses. Measures that could change the lives of perhaps more than 300,000 Nevada residents, or 10% of the state’s population.
Tamaki, a Californian who was appointed to the California Reparations Task Force by Governor Gavin Newsom, said the group had three tasks:
- study and develop repair proposals
- recommend ways to educate Californians and the nation about American slavery
- recommend appropriate remedies
The task force began in June 2021 and on June 1 this year, its members released an in-depth nearly 500-page report that chronicles 250 years of slavery and racial terror, 90 years of Jim Crow segregation laws and decades more. the continued discrimination that, according to Tamaki, “resulted in today’s results, which are both shocking, but not surprising.”
The California task force will hold hearings on possible reparations beginning in September and continuing through June 2023.
So far in Nevada, no legislation has been drafted to create a reparations task force to study Nevada laws and legal discrimination against black residents, although the state has sometimes been described as the “Mississippi of the West”. From a 1954 Ebony magazine article, Black residents of Las Vegas have been relegated to slums, low-status jobs and legal discrimination.
“While there has been no specific action on reparations in Nevada, there has been substantial progress toward racial justice and the advancement of equity,” the Assemblyman said. Howard Watts III (D-Las Vegas) in an interview with The Nevada Independent.
In 2021, Watts sponsored AJR10, a measure to amend the Nevada Constitution by removing language that allows slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. It passed unanimously, but it must be passed again in next year’s legislative session and then it would be put on the ballot for a vote to take effect.
State and local leaders said they have focused on racial justice throughout the legislative process, including through AB256, a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) expanding access to doulas as a way to combat high black motherhood rates. mortality.
Other measures include AB261, sponsored by Congresswoman Natha Anderson (D-Reno), which demands that diverse perspectives become an essential part of the K-12 curriculum, and AB267, sponsored by Congressman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) and others, which provides compensation to those wrongfully convicted.
But Watts said measures are not the same as repairs.
“We worked on the reform,” he said. “…I’m not saying reparations aren’t on the table.”