NY Governor Hochul Moves Forward With Slavery Reparations

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a new state law into effect that establishes a commission to examine the impact of slavery and consider reparation payments at taxpayer expense. While the move reflects a growing trend among progressive states, it has ignited criticism questioning whether reparations can be effective or fair.

Hochul appeared alongside several Black leaders at Tuesday’s signing ceremony. The law makes New York the second state following California to take formal steps forward in evaluating reparations. The new commission will have one year to submit its initial findings and recommendations to the state legislature. It is charged to also recommend “appropriate remedies” for the “historical injustices of slavery and subsequent racial discrimination.”

Progressives and liberals are congratulating Hochul for taking steps to confront a painful chapter in New York’s history. Critics, including New York state GOP chairman Ed Cox, have condemned the move as divisive and unproductive. Cox said the law will only serve to reopen old wounds and exacerbate racial tensions while not effectively remedying harm.

At the heart of the conservative critique is the belief that America has already made strides in addressing past injustices through various civil rights legislations and social welfare programs. Leaders like Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) argue that 21st-century America offers ample opportunities to all citizens, undercutting any present-day need for reparation payments. Critics also point out the unfairness and impossibility of attempting to punish people today for harm done many years before any living person was born.

Nevertheless, Hochul stands firmly in support of the reparations movement. She said Tuesday that while slavery in the U.S. ended under the law, the wounds still exist today. She pointed to the “racial wealth gap” in New York City as evidence that the damage done by slavery affects people alive today.

Polls show a majority of Americans oppose moving forward with reparations. A 2021 University of Massachusetts poll found roughly two-thirds of American adults were against cash payments to descendants of slaves. A 2022 Pew Research Center poll indicated about 80% of White Americans oppose reparations.

Hochul’s signing of the reparations bill represents a controversial step in the nation’s history. As the debate unfolds, it remains to be seen whether initiatives in places like New York and California will bring about the intended healing or deepen existing societal divides.