Alameda County establishes commission to look at reparations for Black residents

The County of Alameda Calif. supervisors logo. seal (Photo courtesy of the County of Alameda)

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the formation of a commission that will create an action plan to address inequities caused by slavery and discrimination against Black residents.

The commission will be appointed by the board and have up to 15 members from a variety of backgrounds. Members may include someone who was displaced by gentrification and a person who was incarcerated.

Board president Nate Miley said the board is not proposing putting checks in the pockets of African Americans, though that could happen. Other forms of reparations may occur, too.

“Today, we as Black people live under the shadow of slavery,” Supervisor Keith Carson said. “It wasn’t 150 years ago, it wasn’t 250 years ago, it continues to persist today.”

Black people comprise the largest number of homeless individuals in the country, Carson said, and thousands of Black people were experimented on. Earlier in his comments, Carson referred to the Tuskegee experiment, in which researchers did not obtain the consent of the men who participated or offer penicillin even after it was widely available to treat syphilis.

Black people in the judicial system “have never received equal protection under the law,” he said.

Black people have been kept out of “institutions of higher learning” and they are lowest paid people in the job market, Carson said.

“The United States government has documented its participation in making drugs available to Black communities,” he said. Then the government built bigger prisons, he said, put Black people in prisons for long periods of time and enacted three strike laws.

Other jurisdictions, including the state of California, have formed similar committees, commissions, or task forces.

The City and County of San Francisco formed a committee of 15 members that will submit research to its Board of Supervisors, according to a presentation Tuesday by Caleb Matthews from Miley’s office. The City of Los Angeles formed a reparations advisory commission in June 2021 and Asheville, North Carolina, and Evanston, Illinois, are working toward reparations, the presentation said.

Appointments to Alameda County’s commission are expected to occur no later than July 1, Matthews said during the presentation. The commission would report bi-monthly to an ad hoc committee of the board with the goal of adopting reparations by July of next year.

Matthews defined reparations as making amends “by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” He named five areas of reparations. Three of those are compensation such as cash payments, restitution such as the return of land, and the provision of rehabilitative services such as medical or legal services. Other forms of reparations may come in the form of policy reform, public apologies and memorials.

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