Home Business Civil rights advocates want reparations. San Francisco says how about an apology

Civil rights advocates want reparations. San Francisco says how about an apology

Civil rights advocates want reparations. San Francisco says how about an apology


San Francisco’s supervisors plan to offer a formal apology to Black residents for decades of racist laws and policies perpetrated by the city, a long-awaited first step as it considers providing reparations.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the resolution apologizing to African Americans and their descendants. All 11 members have signed on as sponsors, guaranteeing its passage. It would be one of the first major U.S. cities to do so.

The resolution calls on San Francisco to not repeat the harmful policies and practices, and to commit “to making substantial ongoing, systemic, and programmatic investments” in Black communities. There are about 46,000 Black residents in San Francisco.

“An apology from this city is very concrete and is not just symbolic, as admitting fault is a major step in making amends,” Supervisor Shamann Walton, the only Black member of the board and chief proponent of reparations, said at a committee hearing on the resolution earlier this month.

Others say the apology is insufficient on its own for true atonement.

“An apology is just cotton candy rhetoric,” said the Rev. Amos C. Brown, a member of the San Francisco reparations advisory committee that proposed the apology among other recommendations. “What we need is concrete actions.”

An apology would be the first reparations recommendation to be realized of more than 100 proposals the city committee has made. The African American Reparations Advisory Committee also proposed that every eligible Black adult receive a $5 million lump-sum cash payment and a guaranteed income of nearly $100,000 a year to remedy San Francisco’s deep racial wealth gap.

But there has been no action on those and other proposals. Mayor London Breed, who is Black, has stated she believes reparations should be handled at the national level. Facing a budget crunch, her administration eliminated $4 million for a proposed reparations office in cuts this year.

Reparations advocates at the previous hearing expressed frustration with the slow pace of government action, saying that Black residents continue to lag in metrics related to health, education and income.

Black people, for example, make up 38% of San Francisco’s homeless population despite being less than 6% of the general population, according to a 2022 federal count.

In 2020, California became the first state in the nation to create a task force on reparations. The state committee, which dissolved in 2023, also offered numerous policy recommendations, including methodologies to calculate cash payments to descendants of enslaved people.

But reparations bills introduced by the California Legislative Black Caucus this year also leave out financial redress, although the package includes proposals to compensate people whose land the government seized through eminent domain, create a state reparations agency, ban forced prison labor and issue an apology.

Cheryl Thornton, a San Francisco city employee who is Black, said in an interview after the committee hearing that an apology alone does little to address current problems, such as shorter lifespans for Black people.

“That’s why reparations is important in health care,” she said. “And it’s just because of the lack of healthy food, the lack of access to medical care and the lack of access to quality education.”

Other states have apologized for their history of discrimination and violence and role in the enslavement of African Americans, according to the resolution.

In 2022, Boston became the first major city in the U.S. to issue an apology. That same year, the Boston City Council voted to form a reparations task force.

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