New York lawmakers pass bill to create reparations commission

About four centuries ago, Europeans began to bring African slaves to what is now New York.

Slaves built lower Manhattan’s soaring Trinity Church. They built the wall for which Wall St. is named. They built the city’s prison and its hospital.

Slavery in New York would remain legal for 200 years. And today, its legacy has not been fully scrubbed.

In New York State, Black workers make about 74 cents for every dollar earned by white workers, according to federal Labor Department data. Racial gaps in educational attainment and health outcomes persist.

State lawmakers passed legislation Thursday that would launch a commission tasked with studying the after-effects of slavery in New York and making nonbinding recommendations on reparations.

In doing so, New York legislators followed in the footsteps of California, which created a reparations task force in 2020.

New York would be the second state with such a commission, according to the office of state Sen. James Sanders, the Queens Democrat who sponsored the measure.

“America’s original sin must be resolved,” Sanders said in an interview.

“What lingers from that period has to be dealt with, and thus reparations,” he said. “We are talking about a more perfect union.”

The bill calls for a commission with nine members: three appointed by the governor, three by the Assembly and three by the Senate.

It instructs the commission to report its findings and recommendations within a year of the launch of its work.

The legislation passed 41 to 21 in the Senate and 106 to 41 in the Assembly.

A spokesman for Gov. Kathy Hochul, Avi Small, said Friday that the governor would review the bill.

Most Americans oppose reparations for the descendants of slaves, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. In a 2021 Pew survey, 77% of Black voters supported reparations, and 80% of white voters opposed them.

Sanders said he has faith that “the children of Samuel Adams, the children of Tom Paine can meet with the children of Martin Luther King and the children of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman and make sure that we move the American experiment forward.”