Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media
One day after Darrick Hamilton testified before California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, the panel decided that it would not enter into a contractual agreement with the noted economist.
Seven members of the nine-member panel voted to move forward without Hamilton. Two appointees, Loyola-Marymount psychology professor Dr. Cheryl Grills and UCLA law professor Lisa Holder, abstained.
The group’s chair Kamilah Moore said Hamilton informed the task force that he would have to narrow the responsibilities of his role, from advising on both calculations and methodology, to a “renewed or narrower scope of work.”
“I feel that the work is inseparable,” Moore said before the vote.
Hamilton was expected to bring an economic perspective to the work the group is doing, helping to quantify past economic injustices African Americans faced in the state and elsewhere, and determining what or how much compensation should be for Black people living in California.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the state’s historic reparations bill into law, Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, in 2020.
Former Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) authored the bill before she was appointed and sworn in as the state’s first African American Secretary of State in January 2021.
AB 3121, titled “The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” created a nine-member commission to investigate the history of slavery in the United States, the extent of California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the denial of Black citizens their constitutional rights.
In October, the task force approved the appointment of Hamilton, who is an economics and urban policy professor at The New School in New York City.
According to Section F of Article 2, 8301.1, of the legislation, Hamilton would have been charged with affixing “what form of compensation should be awarded, through what instrumentalities, and who should be eligible for such compensation.”
The contract would have paid Hamilton $90,000 for the scope and term of his work, Moore said. But the reduced assignment the economist requested decreases his compensation to $45,000.
“Fast forward to (Dec. 7), Dr. Hamilton essentially communicated to the task force that while he’s still able to deliver on Section F, he will no longer be able to deliver on Section E,” Moore said. “That would be doing the actual calculations for what any compensation should be. He meant that there weren’t enough resources present in the given contract, he felt that he didn’t have enough time, and he also pointed out issues of clarity on how to tackle that part of the bill.”
Hamilton told the task force that there was some misunderstanding about the work he could provide.
“I don’t think we had complete clarity at the time the (Department of Justice) made its presentation in October or September,” Hamilton said. “With F, I have great clarity given the time constraints as well as the potential budgets that are available.”
Michael Newman, the Senior Assistant Attorney General of the California Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section, said the DOJ was still in negotiation with Hamilton before the task force’s fifth meeting and no contracts had been signed.
“To my knowledge, he has not done any reimbursable work under the contract. The contract has not been signed,” Newman said. “Other than sort of scoping out the project, doing the initial evaluation, or preparing for his testimony (Dec. 7), he hasn’t done anything on the project. I think he’s accrued probably reimbursable time in his initial preparation, but we’ll have to talk about that.”
Hamilton, a leading national authority on race and public policy, has been involved in crafting progressive policy proposals, such as Baby Bonds, which are trust accounts for low-income kids funded by taxpayers.
Hamilton is also a proponent of the Federal Job Guarantee, a policy that would mandate the government to provide a job for any person that needs one. Those initiatives have garnered national media attention and served as inspiration for legislative proposals across the country at the federal, state, and local levels.
In his defense, Grills said Hamilton’s knowledge, intellect and skill set are absolutely not “limited.” Hamilton is more than capable of performing the task, she explained, and said that he wanted to make sure both Section E and F would be completed thoroughly.
“I think he’s trying to caution us about what it really takes to do a careful set of calculations that are aligned with how we are defining some of the factors and understanding the costs,” Grills said. “He’s offering caution about what it takes and to do it in a way that minimizes the negative feedback that we will get on everything we do.”
With five meetings left on the agenda, Moore said that the task force will consider the services of William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. He is also the Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy, African and African American studies, and economics at Duke University.
Darity’s research focuses on racial, class and ethnic inequality and stratification economics; education and the racial achievement gap; North-South theories of trade and development; and the economics of reparations.
Darity and his coauthor of the book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century,” Kirsten Mullen, testified before the task force during the first meeting in June.
Task Force member Don Tamaki said that Darity absolutely has the “stature” in terms of notoriety and has arrived at a number in his and Mullen’s book “anywhere from $9 trillion to $14 trillion” in terms of reparations.
As did Grills, Tamaki also warned that it doesn’t matter who does the work for 8301.1 Sections E and F. The report will get backlash, he said.
“The report is going to get criticized, scrutinized, and really taken apart,” Tamaki said. “So, it really has to be a first-rate expert in this area.”