President Barack Obama will host an early vote rally in Newark, urging residents to re-elect Democratic Governor Phil Murphy but some citizens are questioning why the administration has failed to push legislation allowing municipalities to create Civilian Complaint Review Boards with subpoena powers or address one of the nation’s worst school segregation records.
After a federal intervention against its law enforcement agency over police brutality, excessive force, and other misconduct, Newark created a panel to investigate complaints but the state Supreme Court ruled that municipalities do not have that power.
Senate Bill No. 2963 and Assembly Bill No. 4656 would authorize municipalities and counties to establish local civilian review boards with subpoena power to review police operations and conduct.
The Senate bill has languished in committee but after four Black members of the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee—Shavonda E. Sumter, Jamel C. Holley, Angela V. McKnight, and William W. Spearman—advanced its version of the legislation, Speaker Craig Coughlin stuck it back into the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
When three Black members of that panel—Herb Conaway, Jr., Gordon M. Johnson, and Cleopatra G. Tucker—prevailed upon their colleagues John J. Burzichelli, Gary S. Schaer, Wayne P. DeAngelo, and Eliana Pintor Marin and approved it, Coughlin committed the measure to the Assembly Budget Committee.
Almost the entire time Murphy has held office, a far reaching lawsuit has been pending led by former Supreme Court justice Gary Stein, Education Law Center founder Paul Tractenberg, and Ryan Haygood of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
Murphy has said racial segregation in schools is an unacceptable condition that the state needs to address, but he has taken no action to do that and the state’s lawyer, Assistant Attorney General Melissa Schaffer, argued that the plaintiffs are blaming the wrong party and dragged out any resolution by trying to join all of New Jersey’s nearly 600 districts into the litigation.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ultimately agreed that requiring hundreds of districts to be part of the case would be untenable and unnecessary in a case involving state constitutional rights, but she invited localities to participate in the deliberations.
Today, more than 65 years since the US Supreme Court ruled that separate educational services for different races constitute a violation of individual rights under the 14th Amendment, in the landmark Brown vs, Board of Education case argued by Thurgood Marshal, New Jersey’s public school system remains highly segregated.
Enrollment data reveals that more than half of New Jersey’s public school districts are either 75% white or three-quarters nonwhite.
An NJ Spotlight analysis of New Jersey Department of Education enrollment data for public schools for the 2018-2019 year found many of the state’s 676 public, charter and county vocational and special services districts to be out of balance racially or ethnically.
On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren, delivered the unanimous ruling: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Segregated classrooms have not translated into jobs for non-white educators. Developing a diverse teaching workforce also remains a challenge in New Jersey, despite evidence showing that students of color respond positively when more teachers of color are in front of their classrooms.
New Jersey’s teachers don’t look much like the state’s students: while 22 percent of students in 2016 were white females, white women made up 66 percent of the teacher workforce. Experts say the state should develop strategies – including offering competitive pay to highly-qualified teacher candidates – to bring more workers of color into teaching but Murphy has not done anything to advance that objective.