California Launches Reparations Task Force, But There's One Big Problem

Posted: Jun 03, 2021 1:45 PM
California Launches Reparations Task Force, But There's One Big Problem

Source: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

As Matt first reported, California's wokesters are launching a working group to study possible scenarios for awarding reparations to African American residents. It's the first such initiative in the U.S. that comes as Newsom scrambles to solidify support for himself amid a recall effort.

The reparations task force—greenlit by California's legislature—will be made up of nine members appointed by Newsom and his colleagues in the legislature, a nice feather in the hat to be offered to social justice warriors seeking to signal their virtue in an official capacity. 

"Your task is to determine the depth of the harm and the ways in which we are to repair that harm," said Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who as a then-state assemblywoman introduced the legislation to establish a reparations task force. 

There are many problems in pursuing reparations to right the wrong of slavery today, but there's a blinding one in California's situation: The Golden State was always a free state for African Americans. Harms caused by slavery in California were at the hands of individual citizens, not the state government.

As part of the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted to the Union as a free, nonslavery state under a constitution that did not allow the enslavement of African Americans. 

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for punishment of a crime, shall ever be tolerated," states California's constitution.

And while some Californians did hold slaves to work in gold mines after statehood, the state's courts frequently ruled in favor of emancipation when such issues went to court. Any deprivation of God-given rights of black Californians in the past was the result of wrongs committed by individuals, not state-sanctioned slavery.

It's important to note that California's constitutional prohibition on slavery was not always recognized in court and, in one such case that went to the state's highest court, a fugitive slave law was upheld by pro-slavery justices. The lawyer fighting for the recognition of former slaves' rights was none other than Cornelius Cole, the founder of the California Republican Party. 

In 1849, Charles Perkins, a white man from Mississippi set out to mine gold in Placerville County, taking Carter Perkins, an enslaved man on his father’s plantation with him. Robert Perkins and Sandy Jones soon followed, forced to migrate west and leave their wives and children behind. All three went to work for Charles Perkins mining gold.

When Charles Perkins fell on hard times and decided to return South, he could only afford the return passage for himself. He left the three black men with a friend. He in turn agreed to grant them their freedom if they worked for him for six months. Set free in November 1851, the industrious trio launched a mining supply business in Ophir, earning $3,000 (close to $100,000 in today’s dollars)

Their California dream came to an end when Charles Perkins reported the men as runaway slaves and demanded their return.

Sacramento’s activist black community raised funds to hire Cornelius Cole, a prominent lawyer and founder of California’s Republican Party which opposed slavery’s expansion, and future U.S. senator, to defend the former miners. Cole argued that the state Fugitive Slave Law violated the California constitution’s slavery ban.

However, in 1852, the pro-slavery state Supreme Court ordered the defendants remanded to Charles Perkins in Mississippi. Legend has it that they escaped during their ship’s passage through the Panama isthmus, but their fate is unknown.

via California Historical Society

Native Americans, on the other hand, were deprived by California's government of many rights, subjected to forced labor, and denied citizenship through a law passed in 1850 that was not fully repealed until 1937. So why doesn't Newsom address this state-sanctioned injustice? The obvious answer is politics. Native Americans make up just 0.8 percent of California's population, so pandering to them is a far less rewarding venture for Newsom and his allies than paying at least lip and legislative service to California's African American population to shore up their support ahead of the recall election.

If Newsom and Democrat legislators continue with this virtue signaling political theater in the name of supposedly repairing harm done to Californians, perhaps they should consider having Kamala Harris contribute to a reparations fund to repay the citizens she kept incarcerated while knowing they were wrongly convicted.

Harris' shameful conduct from the not so distant past sure seems like some harm that could be tangibly repaired:

As attorney general, she weaponized technicalities to keep wrongfully convicted people behind bars rather than allow them new trials with competent counsel and prosecutors willing to play fair. One of them, Kevin Cooper, is on death row. Another, George Gage, will die in prison without intervention from the governor. In both cases, Harris had the power to change the outcome. She could have demanded DNA testing in Cooper’s case. She refused. She could have conceded Gage’s conviction was based on the prosecutor’s decision to suppress evidence that devastated the credibility of the sole witness against him. She didn’t.

The actions Harris took sure seem like "harm" that reparation proponents claim they're going to repair, but don't hold your breath. There also won't be accountability for Democrat politicians who spent decades doing harm to California's African American communities with their leftist policies.

Ultimately, California's reparations task force has a deadline of July 2023 to issue their recommendations for how the state will attempt to make amends.

In the words of the great economist Walter Williams "Since slaves and slave traders and owners are no longer with us, compensation is beyond our reach and it's a matter that will have to be settled in hell or heaven."