April 16th, 2024

San Francisco apologizes to Black residents for decades of racist policies

By Janie Har, The Associated Press on February 27, 2024.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Supervisors in San Francisco formally apologized Tuesday to African Americans and their descendants for the city’s role in perpetuating racism and discrimination.

“On behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors offers its deepest apologies to all African Americans and their descendants who came to San Francisco and were victims of systemic and structural discrimination, institutional racism, targeted acts of violence, and atrocities,” the resolution reads in part.

All 11 board members signed on as sponsors of the resolution.

It is the first reparations recommendation of more than 100 proposals made by a city committee to win approval. 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, said 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.

San Francisco joins another major U.S. city, Boston, in issuing an apology. Nine states have formally apologized for slavery, according to the resolution.

The resolution calls on San Francisco not to 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.”

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.

The resolution apologizes to African Americans and their descendants “for systemic and structural discrimination, targeted acts of violence, and atrocities; and committing to the rectification and redress of past policies and misdeeds.”

The resolution contains findings, including property redlining, the razing of the historically Black Fillmore neighborhood in the name of urban renewal, and intentional policies and practices by the city that robbed Black residents of opportunities to build generational wealth.

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.”

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