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Reader's view: Don’t punish the living for offenses of the dead

As recommended by columnist Joel Mathis (“Reparations a valid subject of discussion,” June 23), I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, “The Case for Reparations,” in the Atlantic, and I don’t deny the reality of the evils he documented.

If by reparations he means acknowledgement of such evils in our history, both early and recent, I think we’re already doing that to a certain extent. Many books and articles are constantly coming out about white American’s long history of exploitation of African-Americans (and other non-whites).

As for monetary compensation, I oppose it on constitutional grounds. Article I, Section 9, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution denies Congress the power to pass ex post facto laws; and Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 denies the same power to the states. Ex post facto is Latin for “from after the fact.” According to Floyd G. Cullop, author of “The Constitution of the United States: An Introduction,” an ex post facto law is a “law making a crime of an act done before the time of making the law.” So if Coates wants the federal government to compensate African-Americans for the sufferings of their slave ancestors, we can’t do it. Slavery was legal until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. Slavery should never have been legal, but it was. As for Jim Crow legislation, housing discrimination, etc., if it was legal at the time it was done, we can’t punish anyone for it now.

The best we can do is legislate against such deeds and punish to the fullest extent of the law those who continue to commit them. But we can’t punish the living for the offenses of the dead.

Timothy G. Maloney