Pa. out front: How the argument over reparations is moving into state capitols | Friday Morning Coffee

October 4, 2019 7:01 am

State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia (Image

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

We first reported back in June that state Rep. Chris Rabb was drafting legislation that would both provide reparations for descendants of African slaves and provide some redress for the ensuing centuries of institutional racism.

And while Rabb, a Philadelphia Democrat, has begun seeking co-sponsors for his legislation, and researching the best way to go about reparations, he’s found himself a part of a larger national conversation about America’s original sin. And it’s one that is moving from Washington D.C. to state capitols across the country,

As our colleagues at report this week, lawmakers in four states, California, Texas, New York, and Vermont, have each introduced separate reparations proposals. Each are states that outlawed slavery after the Civil War — or never allowed it in the first place.

It’s certainly going to be a while — if ever — before any of these laws get on the books in their respective states.

Nonetheless, the conversations have been given new energy, as lawmakers have become increasingly aware of slavery’s long-term implications for such issues as criminal justice reform, education, and the wealth gap. In addition, increased hate crimes activity nationwide over the last few years has also helped to drive awareness, Stateline reported.

“I’m surprised to see the action going on at the state level,” Thomas Craemer, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, told Stateline. He became interested in reparations because of the history of the Holocaust and the postwar reparations program in his native Germany, Stateline reported.

“Suddenly reparations has hit the mainstream,” Craemer told Stateline. The academic is part of a national team of experts organized by Duke University professor William Darity, charged with crafting a proposal outlining the argument for reparations, and how they would be implemented,

Critics of the state-level efforts, however, argue the issue should be handled by the federal government. And they’re not sure how the proposals would be paid for and who would qualify for payments, Stateline reported.

“It’s a weird sense of accountability,” Walter Williams, a George Mason University economics professor , told Stateline.

“What people are suggesting is that we help a black person of today by punishing a white person of today for what a white person of yesterday did to a black [person] of yesterday,” Williams, who is black, and opposes all reparations, told Stateline. “That’s a perverse sense of justice in my opinion.”

State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, speaks at a Capitol news conference on House and Senate proposals to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

As Stateline notes, “Talk of reparations has cropped up again and again since the Emancipation Proclamation. As the Civil War was nearing an end, Union leader Gen. William Sherman wrote an order setting aside land confiscated along the southeastern coast for the formerly enslaved — the promise of ’40 acres and a mule’ — only to have it reversed by President Andrew Johnson following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.”

Stateline further notes that “most Americans oppose monetary reparations. A national poll this summer from Gallup found two-thirds of adult U.S. residents opposed cash payments to black descendants of slaves, though among black respondents, 73 percent supported the idea.”

But even among supporters, there’s no clear agreement on what reparations should look like — and whether states should have a role.

“The culpable party is the United States government,” Duke University’s Darity, who is black, told Stateline. “They created the legal and authority structure to allow for these atrocities.”

In a Sept. 3 interview with the Capital-Star’s Stephen CarusoRabb had an entirely different perspective.

“Slavery was not a federal law, it was a state law,” Rabb said at the time. “What state you were born in decided whether you were fully human or property.”

Rabb is a descendant of both slaves, and those who did the enslaving. As Stateline reports, that is a situation fairly common among African-Americans, most of whom are mixed-race because of slavery’s legacy of rape.

I descend from some of the wealthiest white enslavers in U.S. history,” Rabb told Stateline. “I feel a responsibility. I represent the best and worst of this country.”

Speaking to StatelineRabb suggested that his reparations would take the form of tax credits, rather than a cash payout. He’s also eyeing an “opt-in entitlement program” for eligible participants, Stateline reported.

Even if the bill fails, Rabb told Stateline, he will consider it a success.

“Sunlight is the greatest antiseptic,” Rabb said. “What’s polluting our discourse is ignorance and bigotry. We’re putting sunlight on history. This isn’t opinion. This is fact. Here’s what happened.”

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 leads our coverage this morning with an in-depth look at Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to move Pennsylvania into a regional cap-and-trade program.

A day after a judge cleared the path, a state lawmaker from Philadelphia has introduced legislation that would block safe injection sites in his hometown, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

Members of one of Pennsylvania’s most powerful unions are calling for an ICE detention center in Berks County to be shut downCaruso also reports.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune, City Council is looking at scrapping fines and debts at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

On our Commentary Page, the Philadelphia Tribune’s John N. Mitchell says acting Philly Police Commissioner Christine Coulter is the wrong choice for the city’s top cop.  And columnist Jim Goodman, of our sister site, the Wisconsin Examinerhas a few, choice words for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The Philadelphia Skyline from the ‘Rocky Steps’ at the Philly Art Museum. Photo by Steve Lange, courtesy of Flickr Commons.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority took an utterly … unique … approach to dealing with a Philadelphia musician who had some late parking tickets. They. Sent. Her. PornPhillyClout has the story.
Pennsylvania Republicans are sticking with President Donald Trumpand attacking Democrats, as the impeachment push grows, the Post-Gazette reports.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., says he doesn’t want healthcare reform to get lost in the din over impeachment, PennLive reports.
Syphilis, which had been nearly eradicated, is making a comeback in Allentown and Bethlehem, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Philly DA Larry Krasner’s office has a new online crime dashboard that lets you track the progress of prosecutions in real time, BillyPenn reports.
Gov. Tom Wolf won’t veto a controversial eVerify billWITF-FM reports.
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, will co-host a fundraiser for Democratic prez candidate Pete Buttigieg, PoliticsPA reports.
The U.S. House will likely vote to authorize the creation of a Women’s History MuseumRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
12 p.m., Capitol Media Center:
 The Dept. of Health holds a newser on what it’s doing to stop vaping-related lung injuries.

Gov. Tom Wolf
 has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation.
And this one’s by request: Here’s Pennsylvania’s own The Menzingers, with the hugely appropriate, ‘America, You’re Freaking Me Out.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Our beloved Carolina Hurricanes not only opened the 2019-20 season with a win (defeating Montreal 4-3 in a shoot-out at home on Thursday night), they brought back the post-game Storm Surge celebration. And there was much rejoicing.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.