The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has approved the formation of a commission that will create an action plan to address inequities caused by slavery and discrimination against Black residents.

The commission will be appointed by the board and have up to 15 members from a variety of backgrounds. Members may include someone who was displaced by gentrification and a person who was incarcerated.

Board president Nate Miley said the board is not proposing putting checks in the pockets of African Americans, though that could happen. Other forms of reparations may occur, too.

“Today, we as Black people live under the shadow of slavery,” Supervisor Keith Carson said. “It wasn’t 150 years ago, it wasn’t 250 years ago, it continues to persist today.”

Black people account for the largest number of homeless individuals in the country, Carson said, and thousands of Black people were experimented on. Earlier in his comments, Carson referred to the Tuskegee Experiment in which researchers did not obtain the consent of the men who participated or offer penicillin even after it was widely available to treat syphilis.   

“Today, we as Black people live under the shadow of slavery. It wasn’t 150 years ago, it wasn’t 250 years ago, it continues to persist today.”

Supervisor Keith Carson

Black people in the judicial system “have never received equal protection under the law,” he said.

Black people have been kept out of “institutions of higher learning” and they are the lowest paid people in the job market, Carson said.

“The United States government has documented its participation in making drugs available to Black communities,” he said.

Then the government built bigger prisons, he said, put Black people in prisons for long periods of time and enacted three-strike laws.

The case for reparations

Other jurisdictions have formed committees, commissions or task forces. The state of California is one. San Francisco formed a committee of 15 members that will submit research to its Board of Supervisors, according to a presentation Tuesday by Caleb Matthews from Miley’s office.

Los Angeles formed a reparations advisory commission in June 2021 and Asheville, North Carolina, and Evanston, Illinois, are working toward reparations, the presentation said.

Appointments to Alameda County’s commission are expected to occur no later than July 1, Matthews said during the presentation.

The commission would report bi-monthly to an ad hoc committee of the board with the goal of adopting reparations by July of next year.

Matthews defined reparations as making amends “by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.”

He named five areas of reparations. Three of those are compensation such as cash payments, restitution such as the return of land, and the provision of rehabilitative services such as medical or legal services.

Other forms of reparations may come in the form of policy reform, public apologies and memorials.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.