On Thursday, June 8, 2023, New York became the second state in the nation to pass a bill that would create a commission to study the impact of slavery and its legacies on Black residents and propose possible reparations. The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and Senator Brian Benjamin, received bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature and will be sent to Governor Kathy Hochul for her approval.
The commission would consist of 15 members appointed by the governor, the legislature and community organizations. It would examine the history of slavery in New York, the role of the federal and state governments in supporting it, and the economic, political and educational disparities that persist among Black New Yorkers today. The commission would also explore various forms of reparations, such as monetary compensation, educational programs, community investments or public apologies.
The bill’s sponsors said that the commission would be a first step toward acknowledging and addressing the harms caused by slavery and its aftermath. They cited the example of California, which formed a similar reparations task force in 2020 and issued a report with recommendations earlier this year. They also pointed out that New York was one of the first colonies to introduce slavery in North America and that enslaved Africans contributed significantly to the development of the state and the city.
The bill faced some opposition from Republican lawmakers who argued that reparations were unnecessary, divisive or impractical. They questioned the cost and feasibility of compensating descendants of enslaved people and suggested that existing policies and programs were sufficient to promote equal opportunity and justice for all. They also expressed concern that the commission would open a Pandora’s box of grievances and demands from other groups who have suffered historical injustices.
The bill’s supporters countered that reparations were not only a moral obligation but also a matter of economic and social justice. They said that slavery and its legacies have created a racial wealth gap that persists to this day and that reparations would help close it. They also said that reparations would not only benefit Black New Yorkers but also foster healing, reconciliation and unity among all New Yorkers.