“They stole us. They sold us. They owe us reparations now!” was the rallying call at the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan on Friday.
Assemblymember Charles Barron and Sen. Jabari Brisport, alongside other elected officials and activists, led the rally at the sacred ground that memorializes African slaves and freed Blacks from New York’s colonial era.
They urged New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to convene a special session to move forward Brisport’s reparations bill after the Assembly passed its version of the measure in June.
The Assembly bill (A2619A), which Barron (East New York and Spring Creek) sponsored, would create the New York State Community Commission on Reparations Remedies.
Among its duties, the commission would evaluate how the legacy of slavery impacts Black New Yorkers today. It would also propose remedies for the “injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery.”
Brisport, whose district includes parts of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene, sponsored the Senate version (S7215).
His bill did not advance through the legislative process before the session ended in June. It reached the Rules Committee, which controls the flow of legislation and is chaired by Stewart-Cousins.
“It’s like every bill right now. It’s in limbo because the legislative session ended,” Brisport told BK Reader. “I think we introduced it with about a week or two left in the session.”
The senator said Stewart-Cousins had not stated whether she would call a special session to move the bill forward.
“This is one of many pieces of unfinished business that we should come back to,” Brisport continued.
Stewart-Cousins’ office did not immediately respond to BK Reader’s request for comments.
“We’re talking about something that’s 400 years overdue. It’s been said over and over and over again. But we are right here in the heart of the capitalist capital of the world,” Brisport told the dozens of supporters at the rally.
Approximately 41% of New York City households had slaves during the colonial period–compared to 2% in Boston and 6% in Philadelphia, according to the New York Historical Society.
“People want you to forgive rich white men in suits, want you to forget that Black people were the capital that this country was built on,” Brisport continued.
The senator and other speakers applauded Assemblymember Barron and his wife, City Councilmember Inez Barron (East New York, Spring Creek and Starrett City), for their longtime battle for reparations.
Assemblymember Barron was serving on the City Council in 2002 when he proposed a resolution for reparations, urging city lawmakers to create the Commission on Queen Mother Moore Reparations.
“Brothers and sisters keep marching. We want to keep shouting. We want to keep fighting because the defining issue for the 21st century is reparations,” the Assemblymember said at the rally.
The December 12th Movement, a Bed-Stuy-based Black human rights organization, partnered with Barron to organize the rally.
“Our people have been struggling for reparations. This country has been very prosperous, and it owes us reparations,” Lee Guest, a December 12th member, told BK Reader. “We at least ought to be able to have a decent living and a healthcare system to survive.”
Councilmember Barron told supporters the proposed commission would determine “what it is that we are entitled to and present that for consideration.”
“The remedy we’re talking about is the debt that needs to be paid for the kidnapping, the centuries of enslavement, for the stolen wages, for the rape of women and our men, for the separation of our families,” Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman, who represents Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, told the crowd.
All the speakers demanded immediate passage of the Senate bill and for Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign it shortly after.
Brisport told BK Reader that he was “very confident” his bill would succeed.
“We’ve never been as close as we are now,” he stated.
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