The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing today on a bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee dealing with reparations. The bill, known as H.R. 40 in the House, would set up a commission to study to study the question. From Fox News:
“The role of the federal government in supporting the institution of slavery and subsequent discrimination directed against blacks is an injustice that must be formally acknowledged and addressed,” Jackson-Lee said.
“I just simply ask: Why not and why not now?” she said.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is running for president and has introduced a version of Jackson-Lee’s bill in the Senate, said it is wrong to present the issue as one American writing a check for another, and called on lawmakers to deal with what he said is continued racism in America.
Citing racial disparities on issues such as health and education, he said America has a criminal justice system “that is indeed a form of new Jim Crow.”
A day before the hearing, Sen. McConnell argued that reparations were not a good idea since “no one currently alive was responsible for that.”
During today’s hearing, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who raised the issue of reparations with a magazine article back in 2014, responded to McConnell’s statement. Coates argued that the 100 years that followed the Civil War were also rife with efforts to terrorize and limit the economic options of black Americans. He added that there are still people alive now who lived through this era who deserve to be compensated.
Coates mentioned the execution of George Stinney (age 14) in 1944. You can see a video about that case here. He also mentioned the blinding of Isaac Woodard by racist police officers in 1946. I think it’s fair to say that Coates makes a good point that the injustices directed specifically at black Americans didn’t end with slavery.
Speaking against reparations was Quillette writer Coleman Hughes. Hughes essentially argued that efforts to compensate people for past wrongs would wind up distracting from present problems. “We’re spending our time debating a bill that mentions slavery 25 times but incarceration only once,” he said. Hughes said he was in favor of reparations for people harmed by Jim Crow but not for all descendants of slaves. Here’s his testimony (via the Daily Caller):