Ahead of NAACP speech, what has Murphy done for non-white New Jerseyans?


NJ Spotlight News

Shavon Arline-Bradley, left, and Jotaka Eaddy listen to a speaker at NAACP National Convention 2022 in Atlantic City.


With an increasing national spotlight on him, Gov. Phil Murphy, newly elected head of the National Governors Association, is slated to speak Wednesday evening at the NAACP’s national convention in Atlantic City.

Murphy has a history with the national NAACP as a former board member, and it is common practice for the organization to welcome the governor of the state in which the convention is being held. But the announcement that Murphy would speak at the convention is being met with criticism — mainly from school integration activists, who believe he has not done enough to counter segregation and racism in New Jersey education.

The topics discussed by NAACP members at the convention, like police brutality, gun violence, reparations, voting rights and more, are all pertinent issues that affect Black Americans daily. Workshops at the convention aim to empower the NAACP members — after all, the organization’s acronym stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

So, Murphy’s appearance raises the question: What has he done as governor for the advancement of Black New Jerseyans, as well as Latino New Jerseyans?

Murphy inherited a state with some of the highest racial disparities in the nation, and there’s no shortage of statistics to show that systemic racism impacts Black and Latino communities here. Black New Jerseyans are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. White families on average have a net worth of $300,000 more than Black and Latino families. Black and Latino people are also more likely to live near polluted areas in the state, which leads to an array of health issues later on in their lives.

Murphy has made some strides for Black and Latino New Jerseyans, on the whole, and his efforts preceded 2020’s push for a racially equitable America.

Education is one area where Murphy has made progress. Increasing access to quality education is often seen as a pillar for lessening racial and wealth disparities. Murphy ran in 2016 promising universal pre-K for all, and developed a plan to make it happen — and appropriated more funding in his most recent budget. Murphy also made free community college for low-income households a permanent program last year.

Within his administration, former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal reformed use-of-force training, made police use-of-force reports public and made hate crimes a top priority.

His wife Tammy Murphy actively works with the New Jersey Black Legislative Caucus to close the racial gap in maternal- and infant-mortality rates through programs and funding. And on the racial wealth gap, the recent news of the child tax credit and the back-to-school tax holiday is expected to ease the burden on low-income non-white families.

Lack of support on key issues

But social justice advocates say that these reforms are just small steps toward where New Jersey needs to go. Activists champion Murphy’s achievements, but they say they lack support from his administration with some of their top requests: banning police use of chokeholds, creating civilian review boards with subpoena powers to oversee law enforcement agencies, closing youth prisons, allowing for same-day voter registration and creating a reparations task force. The goal of these reforms is to enfranchise Black and Latino New Jerseyans and to stop the deadly outcomes of racism in policing and incarceration practices — the main tenets of 2020’s racial reckoning in the wake of the George Floyd murder at the hands of a white policeman.

The Murphy administration would point to its wealth disparity task force as a legitimate substitute for one on reparations — compensation for Black Americans who have descended from enslaved people and who continue to experience systemic racism.

That task force, which was formed at the end of last year, is researching how to create financial equity for Black and Latino New Jerseyans. While Murphy recognized slavery’s hand in creating the racial wealth gap, organizations like the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice were disappointed that he didn’t use the word “reparations” to explicitly address the issue.

At a reparations rally on Juneteenth this year, Ryan Haygood of the Institute of Social Justice blamed white representation at the top state level as one of the reasons why reparations and other key social justice reform has not moved through the Legislature.

“We will soon be a majority people-of-color state. Very soon,” he said. “We can applaud that. What it speaks to is the burgeoning power and influence of people of color. But our challenge is that our state is segregated at the top.

“It’s a state controlled by three white men: the governor, Phil Murphy — white man; the speaker of the Assembly, Craig Coughlin — white man; Senate President Nicholas Scutari — white man,” he said at the rally.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-07-20 03:24:47 -0700