New York launches commission to consider racial reparations

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in Albany, New York
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(Reuters) - New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Tuesday authorized a commission to consider reparations for the state's role in perpetuating historic discrimination against African Americans, making New York the second U.S. state to launch such an effort.

The state will not be required to follow the recommendations of the commission. New York lawmakers and civil rights activists who attended Hochul's signing ceremony at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan hailed it as a key step toward confronting the state's legacy of slavery and resulting racial gaps in wealth, housing, employment and criminal justice.

"It doesn't mean fixing the past, undoing what happened," Hochul said at the signing ceremony, "but it does mean more than giving people a simple apology 150 years later."

She cited recent anti-Black hate crimes in New York that she said showed "white supremacy is alive and well."

There has been a nationwide surge in efforts to reckon with slavery's impact and institutional racism. Public opinion is sharply split across racial and political lines on the subject of reparations.

Reverend Al Sharpton, speaking at Tuesday's signing ceremony, said he knew some would wrongly interpret the commission as Hochul giving Black activists "a check for billions of dollars," but said it should be seen as the start of a healing process.

Slavery officially ended in New York in 1827. Later, policing and judicial practices, housing discrimination, and school segregation perpetuated the state's racial wealth gap, leaving it greater than that of the U.S. as a whole, according to a Dec. 6 report by the state's comptroller.

The median net worth of white households in New York is $276,900, nearly 15 times greater than Black households in the state, which have a median net worth of $18,870. The ratio between median white and Black household net worth across the U.S. is 9 to 3.

The first U.S. state task force to research and develop reparation proposals for African Americans was launched in California in 2020.

In June, that group released recommendations for policy reforms and proposed formulas the California state legislature could use to calculate financial compensation for descendants of Black people whose ancestors were in the United States in the 19th century. The formulas are based on historic discrimination in housing, wages, and other areas.

(Reporting by Julia Harte; editing by Donna Bryson and David Gregorio)