SAN FRANCISCO (CBS13/AP) — A first-in-the-country task force in California to study and recommend reparations for African Americans is conducting its inaugural meeting, launching a two-year process to address the harms of slavery and systemic racism.

Tuesday’s meeting of the first state reparations committee in the U.S. came as President Joe Biden commemorated the lives of hundreds of Black people killed by a white mob in what was then a thriving African-American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a century ago. It also comes just over a year after George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a white police officer in Minnesota.

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A federal slavery reparations bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in April, but it faces steep odds. The bill, commonly referred to as H.R. 40 was first introduced in Congress in 1989 and refers to the failed government effort to provide 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to newly freed slaves as the Civil War wound down.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who as a state assemblywoman authored the state legislation creating the task force, noted the solemnity of the occasion as well as the opportunity to right a historic wrong.

“Your task is to determine the depth of the harm and the ways in which we are to repair that harm,” said Weber, whose parents were sharecroppers forced to leave the South because of a lack of opportunity.

Critics have said that California did not have slaves and should not have to study reparations, but the state did let slave-owning whites bring their slaves to California. The Legislature even passed a law making it legal to arrest runaway slaves and return them to their owners.

Weber said the state is an economic powerhouse that can point the way for a federal government that has been unable to address the issue.

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The task force will craft an apology and identify policies that contribute to ongoing racial disparities in education, the criminal justice system, generational wealth, and other areas. Black people make up just 6% of California’s population yet constitute an overwhelming percentage of people in prison, the economically needy, and those who are homeless.

The nine task force members, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and leaders of the Legislature, include the descendants of slaves who are now lawyers, academics, and politicians. Slavery may not have flourished in California, but African Americans were still treated harshly in the state. Their neighborhoods in San Francisco and Los Angeles were razed in the name of development.

“We have lost more than we have ever taken from this country. We have given more than has ever been given to us,” said state Sen. Steven Bradford, who is on the committee.

Reparations for slavery have been debated for decades in the United States. A similar proposal to study reparations for Black Americans was first introduced in Congress in 1989. It has never passed, but Congress held a hearing on the proposal last year.

Reparations would not be unprecedented in the United States. The U.S. government partially funded German reparations to Holocaust victims following World War II. And in 1988, the federal government set up a reparations program for Japanese-Americans who were held in concentration camps during World War II.

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