Ninety-four percent of Black voters cast their ballots for Governor Phil Murphy in 2017. Without this support from the Black community, it is unlikely that Phil Murphy would be New Jersey's governor: Fifty-three percent of white voters supported his opponent. But nine months into his administration, Governor Murphy has not focused on critical issues facing the 94%. The Institute and its partners call on Governor Phil Murphy to take action on the following racial justice issues:
Transforming the Youth Justice System: A Black child in New Jersey is 30 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white child -- the highest disparity rate in America. Thus, even though research shows that Black and white young people commit most offenses at similar rates, just 22 white kids are incarcerated in New Jersey.
In the wake of the historic youth prison closure announcements, Governor Murphy must dedicate his time, platform, and resources to prioritizing the fundamental transformation of New Jersey’s failed youth justice system. This will require Governor Murphy to commit to addressing the structural racism that devours young Black and Brown kids in the current system.
Murphy should convene a youth justice commission with a mandate to create and oversee a comprehensive youth justice plan that, with meaningful community input, addresses the policies and practices that drive the racial disparities, prioritizes alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation, and invests the anticipated $20 million closure cost savings into community-based programs in neighborhoods most impacted by incarceration. The commission should also develop a plan and timeline for the closure of New Jersey's three youth prisons, including its most secure youth prison -- the Juvenile Medium Security Facility. No construction should commence before the commission issues its recommendations.
Governor Murphy must also hold public hearings throughout the state to provide updates on the status of the youth prison closures and to seek meaningful input on next steps. The construction of the new youth rehabilitation centers should not commence until the task force issues its recommendations.
Closing the Racial Wealth Gap: The median net worth for New Jersey's white families is $271,402 -- the highest in the nation. But the median net worth for New Jersey's Latino and Black families is just $7,020 and $5,900, respectively.
Murphy should champion the effort to close the racial wealth gap by supporting a statewide plan for individual development accounts (IDAs), which would provide matched savings for low-income residents. Murphy should also lead the effort to empower poor residents in communities segregated by race through deep government infrastructure investments that will raise the property values in communities of color, thereby raising the value of most families' largest asset -- their home. This investment should support and protect current homeowners from losing that asset, as well as expand homeownership among residents of color, including through providing grants for down payment assistance and ensuring access to low-interest, fixed-rate mortgage loans.
Restoring the Right to Vote to People with Criminal Convictions: New Jersey denies the vote to nearly 100,000 people who are in prison, on parole, or on probation. Half of those denied the right to vote are Black, though Black people comprise just 15 percent of the state's population.
Governor Murphy must commit to signing and using the power of his office to urge the passage of S-2100/A-3456, historic legislation that will restore the precious right to vote to people in prison, on parole, or on probation. New Jersey first denied the right to vote to people with criminal convictions in 1844, the same year it adopted a constitution that restricted voting to white men. By continuing to link the right to vote to a racially discriminatory criminal justice system, New Jersey is today accomplishing the same racial exclusion that was commonplace in 1844 and meant to be eradicated by the 15th Amendment.
New Jersey’s most stark and pressing racial disparities are calling out for courageous leadership and Governor Murphy can and should make clear that he is as committed to the 94 percent as they were to him.
We stand ready to work with him when he does.
Please stand with us on Saturday, October 27, at 12:00 PM at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, located at 231-251 Seymour Avenue in Newark, NJ.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Mount Calvary 50 years ago to build support for the Poor People's Campaign.