Reparations bill has support to pass US House, supporters say

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“It’s been a journey of over 30 years,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said. “We had to take a different approach. We had to go one by one to the members explaining that it does not generate a check.

The commission would hold hearings with testimony from those who support and oppose the idea. Jackson Lee said the country would end up better through the process. “Reparations are about repairing and when you repair the damage that has been done, you are doing so much to move a society forward. This commission can be a healing process — telling the truth can heal America,” she said.

While supporters are confident they have the votes to secure approval in the Democratic-controlled House, they are less optimistic about the bill’s fate in the Senate. Instead, they intend to push President Biden to sign an executive order that would create the commission. The bill, HR 40, calls for a months-long study of reparations, so supporters say they need Biden to act now so his administration can implement the commission’s recommendations before the end. of his mandate.

The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the legislation or whether Biden would consider an executive order.

During the 2020 Democratic primary election, the Washington Post asked candidates if they thought the federal government should pay reparations to descendants of slaves. Almost all of the leading candidates, including Biden, have said they support further study of the issue. Their responses represented a significant shift from President Barack Obama’s rejection of the idea during his 2008 campaign. Returning to the issue in an interview last year, Obama said the reparations were “justified” but that the “politics of white resistance and resentment” made the issue a “non-starter” during his presidency.

Supporters say the conversations that began after the killing of George Floyd changed the political calculus of reparations. Floyd’s death in May 2020 sparked global protests and a national reckoning with race and the criminal justice system. For many, watching the viral video of Floyd crying for his mother while struggling to breathe pinned under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer was proof of what black Americans have been saying for years — that their lives are not valued.

“I started fighting for reparations at a time when it didn’t pass the laughter test, when I was spending most of my time trying to get people in power to just utter the word reparations,” said Nkechi Taifa, director of Reparation Education. Project. “That changed with George Floyd. He was like the Emmett Till of the 21st century. It was something about his murder that caught the world’s attention, much like the murder of Emmett Till 70 years ago, and it started a new movement that led to this general conversation about reparations . But people should know that this conversation did not appear overnight on the internet, people have been fighting for a long time to get redress.

This push for a federal commission comes as cities and towns across the country undertake their own efforts to account for their racist past.

In September 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB 3121, which created a task force to study and recommend remedies for Black Californians. In March, the panel will take a final vote on who should be eligible for these reparations. With the vote, the group hopes to set a historic precedent for eligibility for reparations for other states and the federal government. The California effort so far represents the largest black reparations project in the country’s history, but supporters say they expect similar efforts soon in other Democratic strongholds like New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Federal legislation was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) in 1989. The “40” in HR 40 refers to an order signed at the end of the Civil War intended to help newly released. Black people are surviving and making a fresh start after 200 years of servitude. The government would take the land that had been confiscated from the Confederates and redistribute it, with each black family receiving 40 acres. However, after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the order was rescinded and the land returned to white Confederate landowners.

Conyers proposed the legislation following President Reagan’s signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the US government during World War II.

Conyers then introduced the bill 20 times, once during each legislative session from 1989 to 2017. After Conyers resigned from Congress in 2017 following sexual harassment allegations, Rep. Jackson Lee became the main champion of the bill. After 30 years on the Hill, the bill first came out of committee last April. It was endorsed by the House Judiciary Committee in a 25-17 vote. Earlier this month nearly every major civil rights organization and a host of celebrities, including Mark Ruffalo and Danny Glover, signed a letter urging congressional leaders to pass HR 40.

Jackson Lee said she and Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.), who introduced the bill in the Senate, secured 260 sponsors and “yes” votes for the measure in both houses of Congress, but none from the Republicans.

“This outpouring of support sends a clear message to President Biden,” said Kennis Henry of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations. “We are ready for the opportunity to have this racial calculus. And if not now, when?” Henry said.

“We’ve seen other groups get reparations from the Japanese to the families of 9/11 victims. In those cases and others, our government said we had to do something,” Henry said. country refuse to discuss reparations for people of African descent The only difference between those who got reparations and those who didn’t is the color of my skin.

The commission, which would receive funding of $12 million, would be made up of 13 members. The President and Speaker of the House would each appoint three members, while the President pro tempore of the Senate would appoint a single member. The other six seats would be filled by representatives of civil rights organizations that have championed the cause of reparations. Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, senior campaign manager at Color of Change, hopes the commission’s work can help undo what she calls the misinformation of the anti-Critical Race Theory movement.

“At the heart of the critical struggle against race theory is the refusal to educate young people and by proxy their families about the harm America has done to black people,” she said. “And so you have people asking, ‘Why should a black person today receive reparations, none of you experienced slavery?’ And that’s why I think HR 40 is so, so important because it’s going to explain and show how slavery, the Jim Crow era and Reconstruction had a material impact on black communities and their legacies.

Reparations could be a step towards closing the racial wealth gap that was created in part by black families who historically had no land and property to pass on to their descendants due to slavery and more later racist government policies, say supporters.

“There are so many white families who may not be wealthy, but they have a house that they inherited from their grandparents who bought the house with federal funds when they returned from World War II” , Ogunnaike said. “So few black people have that ability, and it’s direct harm at the hands of the federal government. It’s time for them to fix it. Black organizers, the black movement has done an incredible job of making this a centerpiece of the conversation, now we need to understand how we move people to action.

A 2021 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 65% of Americans opposed paying cash reparations to descendants of enslaved black people. While a slim majority of Democrats — 46% — favored the idea, 92% of Republicans opposed it. Two-thirds of blacks supported the idea, but only 18% of white Americans did. However, while a majority still oppose reparations, the ranks of those supporting the idea are up sharply from previous surveys. A 1999 ABC News poll found that only 19% of Americans approved of reparations for black Americans. HR 40 supporters said they expect support for reparations to grow with a federal commission and its findings made public.

“The idea of ​​HR 40 is to respond to those who say my family didn’t have slaves, it’s not my fault,” Jackson Lee said. “What I tell them is that they are very assured that we will not knock on the door of white people to demand money for African Americans. But for slavery, for the hanging of thousands of black people, for Jim Crow laws, for the horrible segregation laws of the 20th century, for the segregation of the US military, for redlining, your government has a responsibility because it was all government – sanctioned. Your government has a debt.

According to Ron Daniels, chairman of the National African American Reparations Commission, “I firmly believe that if white Americans knew better, they would do better.

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