Wright On: San Francisco Reparations-Does Money Always Fix Problems or Can It Make Them Worse?

Will the proposed reparations plan in San Francisco really right this wrong or do more harm?

“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people. We mean well, our motives are good, but we have neglected to conduct care-full due diligence to determine emotional, economic, and cultural outcomes on the receiving end of our charity. Why do we miss this crucial aspect in evaluating our charitable work? Because, as compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served. We have failed to adequately calculate the effects of our service on the lives of those reduced to objects of our pity and patronage.”
― Robert D. Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help

San Francisco’s proposed reparations plan, which would give $5 million to each eligible Black person, will be publicly discussed for the first time at the city’s Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Details: To be eligible for reparations, a person would need to be at least 18 years old and have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least 10 years.

  • They may also need to prove they were born in San Francisco between 1940 and 1996 and lived in the city for at least 13 years, and were displaced, or a descendant of someone displaced, from the city by urban renewal.

State of play: The city is trying to make amends for previous actions that ultimately led to a lack of opportunities and displacement of a portion of the city’s Black population.

  • San Francisco’s urban renewal of the 1960s and ’70s, for example, decimated the Black population in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, an area once known as the Harlem of the West due to its bustling jazz scene.
  • The city’s redevelopment of the Fillmore shuttered 883 businesses, displaced 4,729 households and damaged the lives of nearly 20,000 people, according to the reparations committee.
  • Black people made up 13.4% of the city’s population in 1970, according to U.S. Census data. That has dropped to just 5.7%, according to 2021 Census population estimates.

Catch up quick: San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton in 2020 wrote the since unanimously approved legislation to establish the African American Reparations Advisory Committee.

  • The committee released a draft plan in December that recommended a number of reparations, including a one-time $5 million payment to eligible Black individuals and payroll and property tax exemptions for Black business owners.
  • It also recommended the creation of a mandatory curriculum that centers Black history and culture in the school district and more.

Between the lines: To determine the $5 million figure, the committee looked at factors like income disparity, the wealth gap and “specific incidents where Black folks in San Francisco were legislated out of opportunity,” Tinisch Hollins, the committee’s vice chair, told Axios.

  • “There’s no way to quantify the harm done to Black Americans,” she said, but added the amount the committee is proposing “is not unreasonable.”
  • If approved, it’s unclear where the money would come from, but some supervisors have suggested decreasing the police budget or using revenue from the Cannabis Business Tax to fund reparations, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
  • What they’re saying: “We know the negative impacts of slavery, what it’s done to economic equality, what it’s done to the education [and] overcriminalization for Black people across the country, but also the negative impacts of slavery for folks right here in San Francisco,” Walton told Axios.
  • The other side: Since the plan’s release, city Supervisor Joel Engardio has said the $5 million payment “may not be feasible under current budget constraints.”
  • The city, for example, has a projected budget deficit of $728 million from July through June 2025.
  • Meanwhile, San Francisco Republican Party chairman John Dennis told Axios the process for determining the reparations “was a very unserious thing,” arguing a better approach would be for Black people to pursue litigation against the city.
  • What’s next: The reparations committee will continue to meet monthly before submitting its final proposal in June.
  • From there, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to accept, reject or modify the plan.

*Credit Axios

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