If we want real racial justice, we need to cut through red tape, Lt. Gov says

NJ.com's Tennyson Donyéa reports

After months of protests across the state and country demanding racial equality, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said Thursday it’s time for state officials to “abandon bureaucratic red tape” and pass more far-reaching racial justice policies.

Oliver, a Democrat, made the remarks at an annual meeting for the New Jersey Institute For Social Justice (NJISJ) Thursday evening, where leaders discussed the institution’s goals for the new legislative session, which began on January 14, and is scheduled to run through late January 2022.

“As a state governmental leader, we’ve got to abandon the old ways of going through bureaucratic kinds of experiences. We’ve got to cut out the red tape, cut out the bureaucracy,” Oliver said. “If you want to get something done, I believe, like Nike says, you just do it.”

At the meeting, which was held on Zoom and attended by some state legislators and members of the public, NJISJ leaders put forth the organization’s 2021 “action agenda” for social justice. The group is one of the most vocal advocacy groups for racial justice causes in the state.

This year, it says it will commit to five goals: closing New Jersey’s racial wealth gap; transforming the youth justice system; ensuring democracy for everyone; repairing the harm of racism and keeping communities safe.

The progressive institution, which lobbied to secure the right for people on parole or probation to vote in New Jersey (A5823) in 2019, recommended its solutions to the challenges, many of which Oliver signaled her support for at the meeting. Oliver is the first Black woman to serve as New Jersey lieutenant governor. And the meeting comes in an election year in which every legislative seat in New Jersey is up for grabs. Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy is also up for re-election in 2021.

NJISJ is calling for several measures to narrow New Jersey’s racial wealth gap, including Gov. Murphy’s “baby bond” proposal, which would have invested $1,000 on behalf of every baby born in 2021 to families earning less than 500% of the federal poverty level. It also called for pilot programs that explore guaranteed basic income, push for expanded home ownership programs and the cancel of students loans.

Oliver commented on New Jersey’s failure last year to pass the bond proposal: “We didn’t get there. But it doesn’t mean we won’t get there. We have to begin to look at more creative ways of building wealth in our communities and doing it in novel, new ways.”

To address criminal justice reform, the institute wants the state to close three juvenile detention centers and spend more funds on community initiatives it said will more effectively prevent crime, like improving access to education. Black youth are 21 times more likely to be incarcerated in New Jersey than white youth, according to a 2020 report by NJISJ titled “Beyond The Hashtag.”

It said it will push for more election reform and threw its support behind a bill introducing a reparative task force, which would explore reparations for New Jersey’s role in the American system of slavery.

“It’s not a New Jersey issue. It’s, you know, 403 years of systemic racism. And that’s where the financial gap in wealth continues today,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35), who sat on the meeting’s panel.

“(There are) so many issues that have put us behind the eight ball. That is proof that we’re not looking for a handout, when we’re talking about reparations, it’s a reality that we are owed. This country was built on our backs. New Jersey was built on our backs.”

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