NEWARK, NJ — New Jersey Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy stopped by the People’s Organization for Progress weekly meeting at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark on Thursday, April 6, a month after P.O.P. members had met to start crafting a black agenda for New Jersey.
P.O.P. Chairman Larry Hamm said that meeting on Tuesday, March 4, was “the first of a series of meetings that we’re going to have to try to put together a black agenda that we can put to all major political candidates seeking state and federal offices over the next several years.” And sure enough, when Murphy showed up at the group’s meeting on Thursday, April 6, he was given a draft of its “New Jersey Black Agenda.”
“We had Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is also running for governor, the week before that,” said Hamm on Thursday, April 6. “Some of the questions that were asked at the meeting where Murphy was present were from the black agenda; were issues that we had raised on the black agenda. We’re still working on it. But we plan to have it completed in time for the general election.”
The New Jersey Black Agenda draft that Hamm and the People’s Organization for Progress presented to Murphy contained 14 items, including: police brutality; criminal justice reform; reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans; a jobs-for-all full employment program; health care for all via a statewide single-payer system; free public education and support for youth, from preschool through university, including full implementation of the Amistad Act; a people’s agenda for peace, to end U.S. wars and occupations; housing as a human right, to use state power to eliminate homelessness; defense of democratic rights by using the state as a bully pulpit, to resist efforts to restrict democratic rights and liberties; uplift and equality for all women in all spheres of life; worker’s rights, including a living wage for all and the immediate implementation of the $15 per hour minimum wage; immigrants’ rights and the legalization of equal rights for all; seniors’ rights by preserving and enhancing the social safety net; and environmental justice and the end of environmental racism.
Irvington resident Ed Kaiser, a member of the People’s Organization for Progress and the Irvington NAACP, was at the meeting on Thursday, April 6, and asked Murphy about the issue of local foreclosures.
“On foreclosures: Six out of the 10 pages in yesterday’s New Jersey paper of record was sheriff’s notices and, in the last three days, it’s been over 100 pages of sheriff’s notices … I’m always saying, if those people just woke up in the morning and found their windshield smashed in the night before, it would be the biggest story in the country,” Kaiser said. “I’m more asking your advice. I know you can’t do anything until November, when the election comes, but what would you recommend that people like in the Senate or Assembly do to alleviate this crisis that’s going on every day with the moving vans moving in every day. It’s not houses and real estate, it’s people’s families that are being ripped apart. What could be done now?”
Murphy answered Kaiser’s question, but said he had to “be brief” in doing so.
“I got an answer for you; I’m going to have to be brief, so I apologize, but here’s the quick thing: This isn’t a cure-all, but it’s a big step,” Murphy said on Thursday, April 6. “Most of the big Wall Street banks had settlements with the Department of Justice after the mortgage-finance crisis — the least they could do, frankly, in the overall scheme of things. There’s a lot of money sitting there that’s available for relief. It turns out you have to go and present your case, to get your share of that money, to apply in your city or state.”
But Murphy said New Jersey and Gov. Chris Christie have not done their due diligence, when it comes to getting the Garden State’s “rightful share” of that relief, adding, “By the way, this is unfortunately consistent with a lot of other programs that New Jersey has failed to get its fair share of.”
“Our people have looked at this and you could buy every foreclosed (property) in Atlantic County — which leads the nation of any county in America of foreclosed homes for a total of $55 million — and there are nonprofits that do this, where you run the money through the nonprofit; they buy the home; they get it into a better condition for a modest amount of money; they then rent it out as affordable housing in a state which is starving for affordable housing. I like that idea a lot. I’d love to look at it more closely as it relates to specifically Newark and Essex County.”
But Kaiser said Murphy hadn’t answer his question.
“That’s after the houses are taken away; I’m talking about keeping the people in their homes,” said Kaiser. “That would be good for after the person lost their homes. I’m talking about keeping the people in the homes.”
Murphy apologized and said exactly what the longtime Irvington resident and grassroots activist wanted to hear.
“Sorry, I apologize,” said Murphy. “You do everything you can to keep the person in their home; that’s the first order of business. I skipped that point. You’re right.”
Murphy also answered questions from Jerome Reid’s mother and stepfather about what he would do as governor to prevent police abuse of power and use of lethal force against unarmed black males.
Reid was shot and killed during a police stop in December 2014. Hamm and the People’s Organization for Progress have been hosting weekly “Justice Monday” protests outside the Peter W. Rodino Federal Building in Newark for more than 60 consecutive weeks, seeking to get the New Jersey attorney to open civil rights investigations into the death of Reid and others.
Another audience member asked Murphy, who was formerly both a Goldman Sachs executive and the U.S. ambassador to Germany, how he felt about civilian complaint review boards with subpoena power and disciplinary power over police.
“We’ve fought in many cases of police killings that have gone unresponded to by local government, by state government, and one of the things we’ve found is that the bar is too high,” said P.O.P. Vice Chairman Larry Adams. “Even if they are arrested and charged, which is rare, murder and homicide don’t work, but criminal negligence is a bar that can be reached; that is (when) somebody is in the custody of police and they turn up dead, the police are responsible, because nobody else had an opportunity or any contact.
“So we want to know where you stand on the question of supporting legislation for the crime of negligent homicide and civilian complaint review board with disciplinary and subpoena power.”
Murphy’s response was succinct and to the point: “Whatever Jeff Sessions is for, I’m against,” Murphy said, referring to the newly appointed U.S. attorney general.
“I really mean this; listen, Jeff Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship by his own party in 1986 because of racist comments. I don’t say that lightly. Let’s be clear what we’re dealing with here. The answer on the first one is absolutely supportive. On the second, I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked that but my quick gut reaction is open-minded to supportive. Your point is, if you can’t prove murder then you get off if the person is in custody … so there’s got to be some bar that’s between zero and murder. That sounds appealing to me.”
P.O.P. member Ron Brown asked Murphy, “Just off the top of your head — and when I say ‘black,’ I mean Hispanic, also — when you become governor, what do you think would be the No. 1 thing you could do as governor to help minorities; to help the black people in the state of New Jersey?”
Murphy said he doesn’t just want to do just one thing for black New Jerseyans.
“I only get one?” he asked. “It’s got to be one of two, because we’re going to do both. One is criminal justice reform, and two, it’s going to be a big economic urban agenda. I’ve got three through 12, too, but I’m going to have to hold off from there.”
Reid’s parents said they were impressed by Murphy and optimistic that he would do something to help them and other similar families, if he wins.
“I was glad to see Phil Murphy for the second time,” said Sheila Reed on Thursday, April 6. “I’m trying to find a way for the governors, when they get into this seat, to get a bill passed for the officers to be convicted of murder. My son was murdered. It wasn’t a homicide, it was murder. Straight up. That man shot him six times and the seventh time in the head. That was overkill.”
Reed’s stepfather, Munir Muhammad, said he would like to see more transparency and accountability from law enforcement and better relations between police and the people they are paid to protect and serve.
“I think that Phil, generally, he was sincere in his comments tonight but I think that we need more transparency with the law enforcement here,” Muhammad said Thursday, April 6. “I think we need more relationship between police and the community. I think we need to stop all this police brutality, because it’s getting out of hand. We don’t want another Chris Christie in office that says you’re going to do something but then you don’t do it.”
The Democratic primary will be Tuesday, June 6, and the statewide general election will be Tuesday, Nov. 7.