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Reparations to be considered under new New York policy

Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

(NEW YORK) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation Tuesday to create a new commission to study reparations and racial justice.

The state commission will be tasked with examining the legacy of slavery, “subsequent discrimination against people of African descent, and the impact these forces continue to have in the present day,” according to Hochul’s office.

The commission will be composed of nine members: three appointed by the governor, three appointed by the speaker of the state Assembly and three appointed by the president of the state Senate.

New York is at least the third state to create a commission to examine the impact of past and ongoing impacts of slavery. California established a task force in 2020 and Illinois established a similar commission.

Several cities have created reparations initiatives of their own, as well, including San Francisco; Evanston, Illinois, and Palm Springs, California.

The New York task force will analyze the history and lasting impacts of slavery in both the state and New York City, including the capture and transport of Africans to the region, the sale and acquisition of slaves, the benefits New York received from such transactions, the treatment of slaves and more, the legislation creating the commission stated.

The commission will also examine the lingering negative effects of slavery and discrimination on the living descendants of slaves and other people of African descent, according to the legislation.

The legislation states that the commission will then submit a written report with findings and recommendations to state leaders one year after the first meeting of the commission, which must take place before mid-June.

According to the New York Historical Society, as many as 20% of colonial New Yorkers were enslaved Africans — one-fifth of the population at the time, Hochul said Tuesday during a press conference in New York City announcing the commission.

“It’s not talked about a lot. That’s a problem,” Hochul said. “Here in New York, there was a slave market where people bought and sold other human beings with callous disregard. It happened right on Wall Street for more than a century. And even though it officially closed when slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, our state still remained a dominant player in the illegal slave trade.”

Three in 10 U.S. adults say descendants of people who were enslaved in the United States should be repaid in some way, while seven in 10 people say these descendants should not be repaid, according to a Pew Research Center survey published in November 2022.

A Pew Research Center survey from 2019 found that 63% of adults surveyed believe slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today either a great deal or a fair amount.

“Former slaves and their children, and their children, and their children across our nation have been haunted for generations by racism and disenfranchisement,” Hochul said Tuesday. “Millions of people, even though free on a piece of paper, were still trapped by Jim Crow [laws], stripped of their rights, even including the right to participate in our democracy, the right to vote. And others were stalked by death, by men in white robes, the [Ku Klux] Klan and the lynch mob. It didn’t stop in the early days. Redlining, housing discrimination, segregation, economic oppression.”

Studies on the impact of slavery and systemic racism, including one 2020 study in the Delaware Journal of Public Health and a 2022 study in the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity journal, have found the legacy of slavery is evident in the ongoing economic and social inequities faced by Black Americans today.

California’s reparations took into account disparities and discrimination in housing, health care, education and more in its 2023 recommendations for remedies, including investments toward these inequities.

Reparations are often a controversial topic, often accompanied by million- or billion-dollar price tags. However, critics speculate whether the financial option will be feasible, as well as sufficient enough to address racial inequities.

“The truth is, we are all held back when millions of our neighbors struggle to lift their families up generation after generation, struggle to give their kids a good education, quality health care that they deserve, struggle while fighting the indignities of racism,” Hochul said.

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