San Francisco should pay trillions in reparations to black people, panel decides

San Francisco should pay trillions in reparations to black people, panel decides
(Image: QuinceCreative / Pixabay)

San Francisco’s reparations committee has proposed that San Francisco pay $5 million each to virtually all black San Francisco residents over the age of 18, and also pay reparations to black people all over the country with drug convictions. This would cost the city trillions of dollars, bankrupting it. Yet the plan was praised by the President of the City’s Board of Supervisors.

Such reparations would be an unconstitutional racial preference, since they wouldn’t be available to non-black people (not even Asians or Hispanics who have suffered racial discrimination), and they aren’t a remedy for recent, widespread discrimination by the government of San Francisco (as any racial preference by the city would have to be, in order to be constitutional). Moreover, the reparations plan has an unconstitutional purpose, because it’s not actually intended as a remedy for discrimination by the city. Most people who would get reparations have no connection to San Francisco, and would qualify for reparations based on drug convictions, an area where the city is not even alleged to have singled out black people.

As the Washington Times reports, “The city’s reparations committee has recommended giving each Black person who meets the criteria a lump-sum payment of $5 million, along with a bonanza of financial benefits that includes a guaranteed income of $97,000 for at least 250 years and paying off all educational and personal debts.”

Black people outside San Francisco could qualify if they have a drug conviction (or are descended from a drug convict) and have enslaved ancestors. “In other words, an Atlanta resident who was once busted for drugs and whose lineage includes an enslaved ancestor would apparently be eligible for the $5 million.”

As the Times notes, “San Francisco has a Black population of about 44,930, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. If all those residents were eligible, the lump-sum price tag alone would be about $225 billion” for just the $5 million per resident payment, not counting the much larger cost of reparations for black people with drug convictions. By contrast, “San Francisco’s 2022-23 budget was $14 billion.”

But as lawyer John Hinderaker notes, the $5 million would be just the beginning — blacks would also get “total forgiveness of debt, exemptions from business taxes, refinanced mortgages, subsidized housing, and a dizzying array of government programs.”

But the costs of reparations for city residents would be small compared to the cost of reparations for non-residents with drug convictions, which would be “incalculable,” he notes.

you don’t ever need to have lived in San Francisco to be eligible for the full suite of benefits. If at least one of your ancestors was a slave, and you were incarcerated in the “failed war on drugs,” or an ancestor of yours was so incarcerated, you can come to San Francisco and claim your $5 million, housing subsidies, etc. Pretty much every [black] incarcerated drug criminal in the U.S., or formerly incarcerated drug criminal, along with all of his progeny, would be a multimillionaire.

For San Francisco to give reparations to drug offenders would be strange and unjustified, because it barely prosecutes drug offenders in recent years, and certainly hasn’t engaged in recent, widespread discrimination against black people in that context. There were only three drug dealing convictions by the San Francisco district attorney’s office in 2021, and none of the offenders were singled out because of their race. The reparations committee doesn’t claim the City is only prosecuting black rather than white drug offenders, or that it is prosecuting more black than white offenders, and even if it did, the Supreme Court’s Armstrong decision says a higher black arrest rate doesn’t show discrimination.

For a racial preference to be legal, it has to be remedying government discrimination, not “societal discrimination,” or discrimination that is “ageless” or in the distant past, according to the Supreme Court’s Croson decision. The governmental discrimination being remedied has to be recent, not in the distant past, like 14 or 18 years ago, according to federal appeals courts in cases like Brunet v. City of Columbus (1993). Also, the governmental discrimination has to be widespread, not just involve isolated instances of discrimination, according to the federal appeals court in San Francisco in its Coral Construction decision.

In its report, the San Francisco African-American Reparations Advisory Committee cites a long history of serious discrimination against blacks by government officials in San Francisco and California from the mid-19th Century to the mid-20th Century, in many different areas of life. But that discrimination is just too old to justify a racial preference. On the other hand, the Committee doesn’t point to any drug conviction tainted by racism in recent years, or even any widespread discrimination by San Francisco’s government.

The Committee does complain about California’s Proposition 209, which abolished affirmative action and thus reduced blacks and wealth. But the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that affirmative-action bans aren’t discriminatory, so this isn’t evidence of discrimination.

The Committee cites the black-white “wealth gap” and other economic disparities between blacks and whites. But such “disparities” aren’t proof of “discrimination.” The Supreme Court in Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (1989), ruled that the fact that blacks had received only 1% of city contracts in a city that was 50% black did not, by itself, prove discrimination.

Racial wealth gaps often have nothing to do with discrimination. “Asian Americans have the highest average net worth and highest average income,” despite historical discrimination against Chinese and Japanese Americans (who were once barred from even testifying in court). As the New York Post notes, “several historically marginalized groups out-perform whites today. Take Japanese Americans, for example: For nearly four decades in the 20th century (1913 – 1952), this group was legally prevented from owning land and property in over a dozen American states. Moreover, 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II,” which forced many interned Japanese people to sell their businesses at fire-sale prices, ruining them. Yet, today, “Japanese Americans outperform whites by large margins in income statistics, education outcomes, test scores and incarceration rates.”

Indeed, groups that have been victimized by discrimination often have more wealth than the majority. Uganda’s racist government seized the businesses of Indian immigrants, gave them to blacks, and kicked the Indians out of the country. 14 years later,  it let Indians come back to Uganda. After they came back, Indians ended up dominating Uganda’s commercial sector once again. As the BBC notes, “despite making up less than 1% of the population,” Indians “are estimated to contribute up to 65% of Uganda’s tax revenues.”

The Committee also cites different “health outcomes” by race. But health disparities are usually not the result of discrimination. For example, Latinos live three years longer than whites, on average, even though doctors don’t discriminate in their favor.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


For your convenience, you may leave commments below using Disqus. If Disqus is not appearing for you, please disable AdBlock to leave a comment.