San Francisco apologizes for legacy of institutional racism amid growing reparations push

San Francisco, California - The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a resolution to apologize for the city's legacy of racial discrimination, paving the way for reparations.

Historic victorian-style homes, some of which were once owned by Black residents, are pictured in San Francisco, California.
Historic victorian-style homes, some of which were once owned by Black residents, are pictured in San Francisco, California.  © Philip Pacheco / AFP

"The San Francisco Board of Supervisors acknowledges acts of fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty, and brutality committed against the Black San Francisco community" as well as "the depth of harm experienced by generations of Black San Franciscans and the debilitating impact this has had," the resolution reads.

The harms mentioned in the text encompass chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining, and the decimation of Black neighborhoods in the "urban renewal" era.

More recent discriminatory policies have led to lack of affordable housing, quality education, living wage jobs, and entrepreneurship opportunities for Black San Franciscans, who also suffer higher food insecurity, maternal mortality, and incarceration rates.

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While Black people make up just 6% of the city's population – far lower than the national average – they comprise around 38% of the unhoused population. Black residents are also three times more likely to experience poverty, with 46% of Black children living in poverty.

San Francisco resolution apologizes to Black Americans

The resolution approved Tuesday states: "The City and County of San Francisco commit to non-repetition of the policies and practices which caused these harms; commit to the restoration for the ways that racism has caused insult to Black humanity and manifested in both visible and invisible trauma through the means of compensation, restoration, and rehabilitation; and commit to making substantial ongoing, systemic, and programmatic investments in Black communities to address historical and present harms."

The 11-member body unanimously supported the proposal, sponsored by Shamann Walton, the city's only Black supervisor.

The push for reparations in San Francisco

San Francisco Mayor London Breed's recent budget cuts also targeted the city's proposed Office of Reparations.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed's recent budget cuts also targeted the city's proposed Office of Reparations.  © Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

San Francisco's apology came after the city's African American Reparations Advisory Committee (AARAC) released its final report in July 2023 calling for major investments and changes in economic empowerment, education, health, and public policy, in addition to $5-million direct payments to eligible individuals.

Mayor London Breed quickly pulled the brakes on cash payments before nixing a proposed Office of Reparations in the city budget. She has repeatedly stated that reparations is the responsibility of the federal government rather than local governments.

Many reparations advocates counter that all levels of government were complicit in the atrocities committed against Black people in America, and therefore share responsibility for righting the wrongs. They add that state and local reparations initiatives can spur the movement for a national commission.

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The formal apology is the first of AARAC's more than 100 recommendations to come to fruition.

San Francisco has now joined Boston and nine states in issuing such an apology, although more work remains to address the dire material conditions of Black residents highlighted in the resolution.

Cover photo: Philip Pacheco / AFP

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