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Morning Spew

New York Takes a Tiny Step Toward Fixing Its Massive Racial Wealth Gap

The law to study reparations is a compromise, but a start.

9:32 AM EST on December 20, 2023

A person looks at a plaque about New York's municipal slave market.

A plaque marking the site of the colonial-era Wall Street slave market in the Financial District. Northeast Corner of Wall Street and Water Street, Manhattan. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

It should not come as a surprise that in the world command center for capitalism, where we are surrounded by institutions built by the labor of enslaved people and streets and landmarks named for slaveowners, that the racial wealth gap in New York is vast. 

The median household net worth of white New Yorkers is $276,900, some fifteen times greater than their Black counterparts, who have a median household net worth of $18,870, according to a recent report from New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. "Looking more closely at three major components of wealth—homeownership, retirement assets, and student debt—we see that Black individuals fare significantly worse than white individuals on every front," the report states.

On Tuesday, New York took a small step toward doing something about these injustices when Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill creating the Community Commission on Reparations Remedies. The commission will study ways to remedy the problems that hundreds of years of enslavement, disenfranchisement, and discrimination have created for today's Black New Yorkers, and will suggest "appropriate remedies and reparations in consideration of the commission's findings
to determine how the state of New York may provide for appropriate laws, policies, programs, projects, and other recommendations in order to reverse such injuries."

The bill, which was sponsored by Queens State Senator James Sanders Jr. and Long Island Assemblymember Michaelle Solages, is a compromise from previous proposals to study reparations—it states that the recommendations "may include" financial payments, while other efforts directed the commission to come up with specific amounts. 

California, the only other state to pass a similar law, received a report from their own commission earlier this year that was the culmination of two years of work, and contained very specific amounts for a variety of injustices—$13,600 per year for health disparities, $2,400 for discriminatory policing, and $3,000 per year for redlining. Their report estimated that Black Californians were owed around $800 billion.

According to New York's law, Governor Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have 90 days to each appoint three members of the commission, which must have its first meeting within 180 days, and must issue its first report within a year of that meeting. 

At the signing ceremony on Tuesday, State Senator Sanders said that his father was a sharecropper who "fled the South" for New York and dropped out of school in the third grade.

"We fled tyranny, we fled terror," Sanders said, according to a report in City & State.

He added, "All he wanted was a chance at equality, and that’s what we’re fighting for today—the equality of opportunity."

Here are some more links to begin your Wednesday:

  • At Tuesday's off-topic press briefing, Mayor Eric Adams all but said he'd veto the "How Many Stops Act," which is co-sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, because it would create too much paperwork for NYPD officers. Adams also said he didn't like a City Council bill banning solitary confinement. Both bills are expected to pass the council later today. "Idealism collides with realism, and the talking points of the bill are different from operationalizing the bill," the mayor said.
  • The mayor also said that anyone criticizing his budget cuts (and that's currently a lot of people) should have to prove that they've protested against the Biden administration's immigration policies first.
  • The City Council is also poised to pass a law banning landlords, property managers, and co-op boards from doing background checks.
  • No one is really monitoring the state's prison monitor. That's a problem.
  • Governor Hochul has yet to sign two bills aimed at stopping illegal rent increases, and time is running out.
  • New Yorkers accused of not paying child support were locked up on Rikers for 23 hours a day.
  • A former NYPD officer was sentenced to 22 months in prison for charging the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
  • Who is U.S. prosecutor Damian Williams, and will he indict Mayor Adams? This short profile leaves you wanting more.
  • After much gnashing of teeth:
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