San Francisco Reparations Ideas Include $5 Million Payment Per Black Person

A first hearing before the city’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday could offer a glimpse of the board’s appetite for advancing a reparations plan that would be unmatched nationwide in specificity and breadth.

AP/Jeff Chiu
A crowd listens to speakers at a reparations rally outside of City Hall at San Francisco, March 14, 2023. AP/Jeff Chiu

SAN FRANCISCO — Payments of $5 million to every eligible Black adult, the elimination of personal debt and tax burdens, guaranteed annual incomes of at least $97,000 for 250 years, and homes at San Francisco for just $1 a family. These are just some of the recommendations made by a city-appointed reparations committee tasked with a thorny question: What would it take to atone for the centuries of American slavery and generations of subsequent racism? 

A first hearing before the city’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday could offer a glimpse of the board’s appetite for advancing a reparations plan that would be unmatched nationwide in specificity and breadth. Critics have slammed it as financially and politically impossible. One conservative analyst estimated that each non-Black family in the city would have to pay at least $600,000.

Some supervisors have said San Francisco can’t afford any major reparations payments right now, given the city’s deep deficit amid a tech industry downturn, but they still want to discuss the proposals and consider future solutions. The board can vote to change, adopt, or reject any or all the recommendations.

Reparations committee members consider their results to be an accurate estimate of what it would take to begin to repair the enduring damage of slavery and discrimination, and they bristle at the idea that they should figure out how to pay for it.

“We are the harmed,” the chairman of San Francisco’s African American Reparations Advisory Committee, Eric McDonnell, said. “If the judge ruled in our favor, the judge would not turn to us and say, ‘Help them figure out how to make this work.’”

The idea of paying compensation for slavery has gained traction across cities and universities. In 2020, California became the first state to form a reparations task force and it is still struggling to put a price tag on what is owed.

The idea has not been taken up at the federal level.

Fewer than 50,000 Black people still live at San Francisco, and it’s not clear how many would be eligible. Possible criteria include having lived in the city during certain time periods and descending from someone “incarcerated for the failed War on Drugs.”

Critics say the payouts make no sense in a state and city that never enslaved Black people. Opponents generally say taxpayers who were never slave owners should not have to pay money to people who were not enslaved.

“There’s still a veiled perspective that, candidly, Black folks don’t deserve this,” Mr. McDonnell said. “The number itself, $5 million, is actually low when you consider the harm.”

A professor at Howard University School of Law, Justin Hansford, says no municipal reparations plan will have enough money to right the wrongs of slavery, but he appreciates any attempts to “genuinely, legitimately, authentically” make things right. That includes cash, he said.

“If you’re going to try to say you’re sorry, you have to speak in the language that people understand, and money is that language,” he said.

Black residents once made up more than 13 percent of San Francisco’s population, but more than 50 years later, they account for less than 6 percent of residents — and 38 percent of its homeless population. 

The Fillmore District thrived with Black-owned night clubs and shops until government redevelopment in the 1960s forced out residents.

The chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, John Dennis, does not support reparations, though he says he’d support a serious conversation on the topic. He doesn’t consider the board’s discussion of $5 million payments to be one.

“This conversation we’re having in San Francisco is completely unserious. They just threw a number up, there’s no analysis,” Mr. Dennis said. “It seems ridiculous, and it also seems that this is the one city where it could possibly pass.”

Led by Supervisor Shamann Walton, the board created the 15-member reparations committee in late 2020, months after Governor Newsom approved a statewide task force amid national turmoil after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the board could direct staff to conduct further research, write legislation, or schedule more meetings. The committee’s final report is due in June.

California’s task force continues to deliberate recommendations, including monetary compensation. Its report is due to the legislature on July 1. At that point it will be up to lawmakers to draft and pass legislation, often a time-consuming process.

The Chicago suburb of Evanston became the first American city to fund reparations. The city gave money to qualifying people for home repairs, down payments, and interest or late penalties due on property. 

In December, the Boston city council approved of a reparations study task force.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use