Thursday, June 27, 2019

Slavery Reparations Could Carry a $17 Trillion Price Tag
Kristin Myers
June 27, 2019

A new bill would calculate potential costs of reparations — and by Yahoo Finance estimates, these could reach as high as $17.1 trillion.

Last week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held the first hearing in a decade on H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. The bill was first introduced in 1989 by former Congressman John Conyers (D-MI). Conyers reintroduced the bill each year until his retirement in 2017 — and each year, the bill languished in Congress.

The bill’s focus was not to pass reparations, but to research the impact slavery had on black Americans and develop proposals for redress.

‘Payments are not the focus of H.R. 40’

The subject of reparations has remained a political hot potato, with presidential candidates Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro supporting some form of reparations. But while the Democratic-controlled House is willing to hear the bill, it seems likely that a bill on reparations will die in the Senate where Republicans have a majority. When asked about the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he opposed the measure, given that “not one of us currently living are responsible” for slavery.

McConnell continued, adding: "We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African-American president.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), a sponsor of H.R. 40 — named after the 40 acres and a mule promised to freed slaves — responded to McConnell’s comments in a statement to Yahoo Finance.

“Payments are not the focus of H.R. 40,” the congresswoman said. “Knowledge is the focus of H.R. 40.”

“The Majority Leader may want to deny this bill a hearing, but he cannot deny the horror and the denial of freedom that human bondage represents,” she said. “The Majority Leader can't deny the free labor that slavery brought; he can't deny the people who died in transit; and he can't deny that this is the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the slave trade.”

The case for reparations

Activists have been calling for reparations for years, and in 2016, a UN panel declared that the U.S. owed black Americans reparations because of slavery and its link to injustices today in America.

“In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” the report states.

“Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching. Impunity for State violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

H.R. 40 co-sponsor Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) says that reparations aren’t about “playing victim” or “race baiting”.

“If the best policies are informed by data, the data supports the fact that black Americans continue to be in the bottom of every outcome when it comes to health, education, and economics,” Pressley said in a statement to Yahoo Finance. “So much work remains to be done in order for us to bend the arc of justice to ensure the full freedom for black Americans.”

African-Americans are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system, accounting for 33% of the prison population, but only 12% of the adult population in the country. According to Pew Research, this is in comparison to their white counterparts who make up a third of the prison population, but over 60% of the adult population in the U.S.

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