California has passed a landmark law which could allow black people and descendants of slaves to receive compensation payments, becoming the first US state to do so.
But in a blow to campaigners, who have long demanded such a law, it does not guarantee compensation or specify how much people will get.
Rather, it establishes a task force to study the impact of slavery on black people in the state – and recommend to the state legislature what kind of compensation should be provided, who should receive it, and what form it will take.
Thank you Governor @GavinNewsom for signing AB3121 https://t.co/PKUcMtXb69 and Thank you @ADOSLosAngeles for bringing the bill to my attention so we could push from all angles.
— Ice Cube (@icecube) September 30, 2020
California governor Gavin Newsom signed the law on Wednesday.
During a video conference with lawmakers and campaigners, including rapper Ice Cube, who posted a message of thanks on Twitter, Mr Newsom said: “After watching last night’s debate, this signing can’t come too soon.”
The governor also said in a later statement: “As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive.”
State assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat representing San Diego, who wrote the proposal, added: “California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery. After 400 years, we still have the impact.”
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California was founded as a free state, or a state where slavery was illegal, in 1850, yet several laws allowed owners to retain enslaved people so long as they lived there temporarily or bought the slaves before statehood.
Slavery became illegal throughout the US in 1865.
LIVE NOW: Governor @GavinNewsom signs landmark racial justice legislation. #CaliforniaforAllhttps://t.co/7Rz0f6eIMv
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) September 30, 2020
A similar proposal to study reparations for black Americans was first introduced in Congress in 1989, but did not pass.
Congress held a hearing on the proposed scheme last year, at which actor Danny Glover was one of the witnesses who argued in favour. It also failed.
The move will be seen as a victory for those campaigning for racial justice in a year when protests against discrimination have spread across the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in police custody in May.
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Many welcomed the news on social media, but the reaction was not completely positive.
Actor James Woods, a conservative, tweeted: “There won’t be a taxpayer left in California within five years.”
Supporters hope other states will follow suit and that it will make amends not just for slavery, but also for some of the institutional practices that continue to disproportionately affect black people in the US.