By Christianne McCormick
March 2, 2023 (San Diego) -- The atrocities committed against African slave descendants, and how those very descendants are entitled to reparations by those who committed those atrocities, have sparked much debate since the prospect of reparations for the African American community came to fruition. On January 27th and 28th, the AB 3121 Task Force, which is an eight-member task force responsible for researching reparations and proposing ways to educate Californians on their discoveries, held one of its periodic meetings at San Diego State University.
The panel’s discussion on the 27th explored five key questions that were posed by economic experts on five areas of harm and the time frames that the harm occurred including: mass incarceration from 1970 to the present, housing discrimination specifically from redlining from 1937 to 1977, discrimination against black owned businesses 1900 to the present, over policing from 1971 to the present, and health harms that occurred from 1900 to the present.
One of the task force members, Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis, clarified that they know there was harm done both before and after the proposed time frames and that the rationale behind the time frames has to do with available data to be able to calculate the eligibility for the community. In order to have a financial basis, they need the available data to calculate, even though they know that harm is still currently being done and has occurred before 1900.
Task force Vice chair Dr. Amos C. Brown argued that the time frame for damage should go back to 1850, citing the damage our first Governor, Peter Hardeman Burnett, committed. The very first ordinance Burnett pushed for was a bill to ensure “no blacks will be admitted to settle in California.” Brown also explained that it was Burnett who voted for an enslaved person to be sent back to Mississippi even though California entered the union as a free state in 1850. After Brown’s testimony, the task force ultimately decided that the damage time frame should begin between California’s entering the union in 1850 or 1852 when the California Fugitive Slave Act was enacted.
Regarding possible end points for those time frames were the founding of The Black Panther Party in 1966, the 1972 Watts Tax Benefits, or the 1992 LA Riots, but it has not been confirmed.
At multiple points during the meeting, Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis addressed false claims certain media outlets have been reporting of what reparations would be to the attendants, stating that the numbers were inaccurate. “The number that had come up in some media sources was $233,000. That was a number that was based upon housing discrimination (specifically) in the period of 1937 to 1977. We are still deliberating,” said Lewis. The task force is still discussing the equation to figure out what reparation amounts would be. “We are literally having that discussion right now,” he said.
Along with those numbers being discussed were tax law considerations. Testimonies were given by a group of selected experts, one of them being Professor Dorothy Brown the author of the book The Whiteness of Wealth. “My ideal solution is to argue for a reparation tax credit designed to compensate black taxpayers for their decades of paying higher taxes. As I describe in the book however such a tax credit would be unlikely to prevail against a federal constitutional challenge given the lack of proof of enacted tax provisions with the specific intent to discriminate against Black Americans. I argue as a second-best alternative a wealth tax credit applicable to all taxpayers’ households with below median wealth. Given the racial wealth gap this will result in a disproportionate percentage of black households receiving the credit but will be available for taxpayers regardless of race or ethnicity therefore passing the test for constitutionality,” Brown stated.
One other way was through the estate tax, which is a way to ensure that those who are held accountable directly pay for reparations. “Alone, there is no greater promotion of the wealth gap than untaxed gifts and inheritances received by white families who are three times more likely to receive an inheritance than members of black families,” stated Sara Moore Johnson, who is a Founding Partner of a boutique estate planning law firm in Washington, D.C., where her practice focuses on transfer tax planning and family wealth stewardship for ultra-high net worth clients whose net worth is $50 million or greater.
“An estate tax on swollen white wealth to replace theft of stolen black wealth,” explained Raymond C. Odom, who serves as a Managing Wealth Partner providing wealth transfer and estate tax consultation to Northern Trust partners, “is a great way to tie the ‘wrong’ to the ‘right’.” An example he gave was how the Estate Tax could be viewed similarly to the Cannabis Tax. “The Cannabis Tax has been used to reallocate funds to communities that the police force historically harassed more often regarding drugs,” said Odom. “There’s a wrong, and now there’s a way to right that.”
At this time, the very inheritances that white people are more likely to receive are not subjected to an Estate Tax in the State of California. The logic behind the use of an Estate Tax used for reparations is to use government taxation of inheritances to redistribute the wealth of those most benefiting from the country’s prevalent systemic racism to those most effected by the unfairness and injustice of racism.
They propose that if the Estate Tax were bolstered, increasing rates and lowering exemptions, the federal government and the state’s share in a significant percentage of an estimated 70 trillion dollars that will be left behind from the baby boomer generation could be used for reparations.
“A common estate tax technique is to take, for example 26 million dollars for exemption and put it into a trust that we call a dynasty trust. That will last for generation after generation and never an estate tax is paid. We have allowed our country to return to the very aristocracy we were trying to avoid” explained Moore-Johnson, “From a revenue perspective the estate tax is just plain sad. In 2020, only 1,900 estates were subject to the tax generating only 16 billion in revenue, it generates one half of one percent of this country’s revenue,” she concluded.
Both Odom and Moore-Johnson also proposed that charitable organizations like educational institutions and churches could help pay for reparations. They wanted to make clear though that they did not want to equate reparations with charity, but they felt that since there are churches atoning for their participation in the slave trade like the Episcopal church, that the State of California could allow incentives to allow private citizens to redistribute wealth.
The archdiocese of Texas, New York and Maryland have set aside a combined 15 million for long term projects benefitting African Americans since those institutions directly affected enslaved Africans at some point in history. Wealthy alumnus from Georgetown University initiated a memory project to trace the ancestry of sold slaves to establish a reparations fund since the school itself would not be in existence if it weren’t for the 272 enslaved men, women, and children that were sold to ensure its survival.
Under existing federal tax law, California could create a state sponsored reparations trust fund to which individuals could make federal and income state tax deductible charitable contributions. Charitable contributions tax incentives currently permitted under code section 170 for contributions that an individual makes to the U.S. or to a state or local government but only if that contribution is for exclusively public purposes. Odom and Moore-Johnson explained that they see this along the lines of a donor who gives money for the library or the public park. Individuals should be able to make tax deductible contributions to a California state sponsored reparations fund if and only if racial repair is recognized on the federal level as a public purpose.
There is precedent for this if the State of California could obtain a ruling from the IRS that confirms that racial reparative justice is a public purpose then contributions to a state-run trust fund that administers and distributes reparations might be tax deductible in the same manner as contributions to public charities.
Some of the task force’s policy proposals to address racial terror in the U.S. prison system included: legislation allowing incarcerated people to vote, abolition of the death penalty, eliminating legal protections for police officers who violate civil or constitutional rights, which are all issues that disproportionately effect the African American community. The task force is also seeking comprehensive audits of State and County facilities that have racially biased treatment of Black adults and juveniles in custody of county jails, state prisons, juvenile halls, and youth camps.
They are also seeking formal apologies on behalf of the State of California which include monuments of white supremacy, disenfranchisement, and oppositions to the 14th and 15th amendment.
The proposals for housing disenfranchisement include funding to assist with residential homeownership, accessibility to affordable housing, property tax relief to descendant living in formerly redlined neighborhoods who purchase or construct a new home, and policies to overhaul the housing industrial complex.
For separate and unequal education the African American community faces the task force proposed: improved access to educational opportunities for all incarcerated people, strategies to recruit African American teachers, adopting a K-12 Black studies curriculum, aims to reduce racial disparities in the STEM for African American students, and to eliminate standardized testing for admission to graduate programs in the University of California and California State University system.
The task force determined that there will be a residency requirement for those receiving reparations in the State of California. A claimant must be an individual or come from a family that moved to California at least 2 or 3 generations ago but this framework will also include people who left California but were born and raised in the state. Residency can be validated with but not limited to voter registration records, medical records, insurance records, employment document lease agreements, and home utility bills.
Secretary of State and former Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who was behind the creation of the bill AB 3121 alongside Governor Newsom, stated when in the Legislature, “California has historically led the country on civil rights, yet we have not come to terms with our state’s ugly past that allowed slaveholding within our borders and returned escaped slaves to their masters.” AB3121 was first signed in by Governor Newsom in September 2021.
Slavery deprived more than four million Africans and their descendants of life, liberty, citizenship, cultural heritage, and economic opportunity. Following the abolition of slavery, government entities at the federal, state, and local levels continued to perpetuate, condone, and often profit from practices that brutalized African Americans and excluded them from meaningful participation in society. This legacy of slavery and racial discrimination has resulted in debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships that are uniquely experienced by African Americans. Part of the responsibility of this task for is to also make recommendations on the different forms’ reparations may take and submit reports of their findings to legislature. This task force is the first task force in the country to study reparations.
The members of the task force consist of Senator Steven Bradford, Dr. Amos C. Brown, who is the vice chair, Dr. Cheryl Grills, Lisa Holder, Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis, Kamilah Moore, Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, and Donald K. Tamaki.
My ancensters were treated poorley. I want money.