Beto Balks, Now Backs Idea of Slavery Reparations
Robert “Beto” O’Roarke has not been a big fan of so-called reparations, which would give restitution — financial and otherwise — for people who have been harmed by slavery and its long legacy in America.
While campaigning for president last month in New Hampshire, the Texas Democrat was asked about the issue, which has drawn support from several Democratic candidates. “I don’t believe… that [reparations] should be the primary or initial focus of the conversation,” O’Rourke said.
But he sang a totally different tune when he appeared in New York on Wednesday before the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Al Sharpton.
There, O’Rourke was asked by Sharpton if he would support a reparations bill drafted by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, to which he said: “absolutely I would sign that into law.”
He offered a tale in which he has learned the error of his ways (from a month ago).
“I had a chance to speak with and just listen to and learn from [executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative] Brian Stevenson in Montgomery, Alabama, and learn from his work on working with the community to build a memorial to justice and to peace and he said ‘foundational to reparations is the word repair. Foundational to repair is the truth,’” O’Rourke said. “And until all Americans understand that civil rights are not just those victories I began with the outset of my comments but the injustices that have been visited and continue to be visited and will never get the change that we need to live up to the promise of this country,” the three-term congressman said. “So absolutely I would sign that into law.”
The idea reparations has gained support from at least five Democratic presidential candidates so far, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.
Jackson Lee’s bill is called “Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act,” and it would reputedly examine the “institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and further recommend appropriate remedies.” So far, more than 30 House lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors.
O’Roarke wouldn’t say if he supported financial payments as part of the reparations, Castro said compensation is key. “There are many things that we need to do in this country that have been a long time in coming and one of those is to move forward with reparations,” he said, adding, “Our country will never truly heal until we address the original sin of slavery…. If under our Constitution we compensate people if we take their property, why wouldn’t we compensate people who were considered property?”
The comments by O’Rourke represent an apparent shift on the issue for the White House contender.