$5 Million for Each Longtime Black Resident? S.F. Has a Bold Reparations Plan to Consider
Justin Phillips, San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 2023
A century after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and lamented how “the Negro still is not free.”
“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” he said during his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
King could have been describing today’s San Francisco, a 47-square-mile city that’s home to more than 60 billionaires and at least 7,000 homeless people, around 40% of whom are Black, despite Black people representing only 5% of the population.
Right up until he was assassinated in 1968, King argued that economic justice was integral to racial justice. The idea is at the core of a draft proposal the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee presented to city leaders last month.
The Board of Supervisors created the committee, also called AARAC, in December 2020, amid a national racial reckoning. The board’s legislation, while innovative, was also narrow, allowing city leaders to reject or outright ignore the committee’s work.
“Centuries of harm and destruction of Black lives, Black bodies and Black communities should be met with centuries of repair,” AARAC chair Eric McDonnell told me. “If you look at San Francisco, it’s very much a tale of two cities.”
AARAC calls for one-time, lump-sum reparations payments of $5 million to each eligible recipient. The amount could cover the “the economic and opportunity losses that Black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by City policy,” the draft states.
To qualify for the payments, residents must be 18 at the time the committee’s proposal is enacted, and have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least 10 years. They may also have to prove they were born in the city between 1940 and 1996, have resided in San Francisco for at least 13 years, and be someone, or the direct descendant of someone, incarcerated during the war on drugs.
To put that in perspective, the state reparations task force, which will issue its own proposal is June, believes that Black Californians may be due $569 billion for housing discrimination alone between 1933 and 1977.