California Senate advances resolution to acknowledge atrocities against Black Americans

Sacramento, California - The California state Senate on Thursday advanced a resolution to acknowledge historic harms perpetrated against Black Americans and to pave the way for reparations.

A resolution introduced by Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas to recognize human rights violations against enslaved Africans and their descendants has passed out of the California state Senate.
A resolution introduced by Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas to recognize human rights violations against enslaved Africans and their descendants has passed out of the California state Senate.  © Screenshot/Facebook/Lola Smallwood-Cuevas

The California state Senate voted 31-1 to pass SCR 113, a resolution introduced by Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas to recognize human rights violations and crimes against humanity on enslaved Africans and their descendants.

The text – approved on the final day of Black History Month – lays out the myriad state-sanctioned abuses waged against Black people since before the Civil War.

From its enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act to its failure to implement its own antislavery law, the California state government was by no means innocent in the American chattel slavery system, the resolution points out.

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This legacy of anti-Black discrimination continued after the US' formal abolition of slavery via state and local segregation laws, disenfranchisement, medical experimentation, racist housing policies, unjust uses of eminent domain, bars on interracial marriage, government-sanctioned violence, mass incarceration, and more.

Acknowledging that these damages continue to hurt Black communities today, the measure resolves that the State of California "recognizes and accepts responsibility for all of the harms and atrocities committed by representatives of the state who promoted, facilitated, enforced, and permitted the institution of chattel slavery and its legacy of ongoing badges and incidents of slavery that form the systemic structures of discrimination."

The resolution also "affirms [the state's] role in protecting the descendants of enslaved people as well as their civil, political, and socio-cultural rights."

Paving the way for reparations in California

State Senator and former California Reparations Task Force member Steven Bradford is a principal co-author of SCR 113.
State Senator and former California Reparations Task Force member Steven Bradford is a principal co-author of SCR 113.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The state Senate's passage of SCR 113 comes eight months after the groundbreaking California Reparations Task Force released its final report. The panel's more than 115 policy recommendations included an official recognition of the harms caused to Black Americans.

The vote also came just weeks after the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) unveiled its first package of bills intended to address the historic injustices laid out in the task force report.

State Senator Steven Bradford, CLBC vice chair and former California Reparations Task Force member, described the resolution as a "good place to start the conversation about the steps we should take to repair and heal these ongoing harms."

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"There are still people in this country and state who are either not aware of the state's real role, or they just choose to look away and live in a fantasy world," Bradford told his colleagues on the Senate floor on Thursday.

"Educating all Californians about the enduring harms of slavery in our state and the racially discriminatory policies that were implemented will be critical if we are ever going to fulfill the promise of equal treatment for all."

The resolution now heads to the California state Assembly.

Cover photo: Collage: Screenshot/Facebook/Lola Smallwood-Cuevas & ARNOLD TURNER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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