When Phil Murphy first campaigned to be New Jersey's governor back in 2017, he courted progressives by promising moves towards equity, inclusion and social justice. Well he's in his second term now, and some people are talking about him as a possible future presidential candidate.
He was set to speak before the NAACP's national convention Wednesday before his speech was canceled due to scheduling reasons. But in anticipation of it, NJ Spotlight News reporter Taylor Jung spoke to social justice advocates in New Jersey to ask: Has the governor done enough for people of color in the Garden State?
Sean Carlson, host of All Things Considered on WNYC, spoke with Jung Thursday to explore the same question. The transcript of their discussion below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Hey, Taylor. Welcome to WNYC!
Hi, thanks for having me.
Can you give us an overview first about the state of racial equity in New Jersey, and more about the racial disparities in the state.
Yeah, so I do want to start with just the fact that Murphy in 2016 did inherit one of the states with some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. And advocates have said that inequity hasn't quite budged or improved since he came to office.
And this is coming from a 2021 report from the Sentencing Project, but Black New Jerseyans are still 12 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.
And a recent study from the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice also shows that white families have about $300,000 more in net worth than Black families. And again, that's a 2022 report.
So I also want to add, it's not just him, there's a lack of representation of people of color at the state level. And often non-white legislators are the ones who are proposing social justice or anti-racist legislation.
Where did the activists you talk to say Murphy comes up short? And what do they want to see him do during his remaining time in office?
Yeah, so so far, Murphy has done a lot to tackle inequities, especially through education and providing universal pre-K as well as a free community college grant and whatnot. And advocates say these actions are all important first steps, but that more needs to be done with police accountability, and voting rights and school desegregation.
And at the end of the day, advocates say that, you know, he is a wealthy white cisgender man, and so they're always going to, you know, make sure that he's gonna walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
So at today's bill signing that's requiring police to be licensed, the ACLU of New Jersey's Amol Sinha did note that when there's political will to reform, that reform will happen, but that there are other bills like ending qualified immunity, banning chokeholds, creating civilian review boards with subpoena power, as well as allowing for same-day voter registration that would all uplift Black and brown New Jerseyans.
What is the governor's office saying to those criticisms?
You know, I think it's a bit of, "We're doing a lot, we're doing our part to close the racial wealth gap." They have made some progress during the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and in this racial reckoning happening in the in the nation. The state attorney general's office did limit the use of deadly force. And they also made reports of major discipline against place available online.
Advocates do say though, that those reports are pretty vague. And I think Murphy would also see the Wealth Disparity Task Force as a successes. And that would take a look at how to improve the wealth gap that exists between Black, Latinx and white New Jerseyans. But, you know, advocates like the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice say that should be called the Reparations Task Force and it should focus more on the descendants of enslaved people in New Jersey and how slavery continues to impact their socioeconomic status today.
So What social and racial justice priorities has the governor identified as areas where he wants to advance policy in what remains of this second term?
Well, I think for the reparations task force, they again, they do see the wealth disparity task force as a good, solid substitute for that. In terms of other policies, you know, I think continuing to invest in Black and brown communities through education is certainly one of his top priorities, as well as a campaign promise from 2016 that he's trying to follow through on as well. As well as, you know, continuing to establish trust between police and the communities that they serve. That does appear to be one point that he is taking quite seriously. Again, today, they signed the bill that says that police should all have licenses. So I think those are just some of the few things. Of course, again, advocates say that there could be more.