Rann Miller

By Rann Miller | Guest Blogger AC JosepH Media

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law recognizing of Juneteenth as a state holiday. It will mean that state offices will be closed every third Friday in June. It may appear to be a gesture with little to no cost, but it will cost $3 million a year in overtime costs for essential workers.

This law adds to the reforms on behalf of Black lives under Governor Murphy’s watch. Last year, in response to the cutting of Andrew Johnson’s locks for participation in a wrestling tournament, Governor Murphy signed into law a bill making it illegal to discriminate against a person’s hairstyle associated with their race and/or ethnicity. Just recently, in response to the Amy Cooper incident in New York’s Central Park, Governor Murphy signed into law a bill that makes a false 911 call regarding someone’s race a crime.

Governor Murphy is a Democrat, whose party is the majority in both chambers of the state legislature. Nevertheless, these laws show that Democrats can be pushed into providing legislation that honors the humanity of Black lives and all people, unlike their Republican counterparts. Voters should consider that prior to voting in November, but I digress.

However, Democrats still need to be pushed.

The rallying cry of Black Lives Matter didn’t begin because Juneteenth wasn’t recognized. Nor did it begin because a Black student’s hair was cut before an athletic competition. It began when Trayvon Martin’s life was taken from him by a vigilante and it has continued with each Black life lost at the hands of law enforcement; Michael Brown Jr., Oscar Grant, LaQuan McDonald, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and countless others.

These murders by law enforcement are the impetus for calls by legislatures around the country and the federal government defended police departments and yet, those calls are met with anticipated opposition. The opposition has even come from one of America’s more “progressive” governors and his administration.

Governor Murphy, focused on funding community initiatives, recently said, “It’s less about what you’re doing with law enforcement than it is: What are you doing with the surrounding community investments.” At a 9/11 memorial service, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver announced to law enforcement in attendance and viewing via stream, “We will never defund you.” In a July webinar, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who calls for more police training, said about defunding the police, “Immediately withdrawing [these types of] resources from law enforcement puts them in an untenable position.”

It seems like Governor Murphy and his administration need to be pushed as well.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo courtesy Gov. Phil Murphy’s Office.

Generally, I do my best to avoid conversations about politics at work. As a Black man, that’s a reasonable attempt at self-care. However, speaking with a co-worker recently took us to the conversation of defunding the police. She is a middle-aged suburban white woman; the sort of voter Donald Trump targets in his political ads and Democrats desperately hope to turn in November’s election.

My co-worker lives in a small suburb and shared her frustration with her local police having what she deemed “unnecessary equipment”; what she called a “waste of her tax dollars.” I lamented the same thing, primarily because I don’t want military weapons used against citizens; Black people in particular.

I shared with her that’s what folks calling for defunding the police mean when they say “defund the police.” It’s about removing cash or in-kind funding resulting in military-style weapons; feeding a war-like occupation mindset from off the streets.

For example, in 2014, NJ police officers received $40 million in military gear and 13 armored vehicles due to a federal program that provides local police departments with surplus military equipment. In 2018, NJ police officers received roughly $12 million in surplus military equipment.

We ought to defund the military as well, but I digress.

My co-worker’s municipal department received over $50,000 in surplus military equipment, including an armored truck and night vision goggles. In Washington Township, Gloucester County, a municipality neighboring my own, the police department received over $1.1 million in surplus military equipment including a landmine resistant vehicle.  

To my knowledge, there are no landmines in Washington Township and southern New Jersey is no war zone.

Police departments have no use for weapons used in war against a civilian population. Certainly police departments do not need anyone in leadership or within the rank in file who believe that such weapons should be used. However, the Murphy Administration would disagree; saying the officers need these resources and that we shouldn’t have to take away funding from police to provide funding for other worthwhile initiatives.

The Murphy Administration is saying something else.

Laws against discriminating against ethnic hairstyles, discriminatory 911 phone calls and recognizing a holiday are safe policy changes given the current environment. They’re safe because the pushback against them is minimal. Black lives still matter in the minds of many.

It’s true that bills of these kinds wouldn’t see the light of day in other states; federally either. But that is because the backlash for support of these bills could result in the end of political careers. That’s not the case in New Jersey concerning these bills.

But if a bill came across the desk of Governor Murphy to defund the police, would he have the political courage to sign it? I doubt it.

New Jersey hasn’t experienced a George Floyd or a Breonna Taylor moment. However, we in New Jersey sadly have our own names to say; Jerame Reid, Maurice Gordon, Jameek Lowery and others.

My point isn’t that I disagree with laws designed to punish racism against Black people when practiced by citizens. My point is that I disagree with the failure in applying the same standard to law enforcement. To not even consider defunding the police, in light of the history of policing in America, and the history of police brutality in New Jersey and nationwide is a slap to those who live out the words “Black lives matter.”

According to Mapping Police Violence, not only are Black people killed by police disproportionately in New Jersey, but more Black people have been killed by police than any other race/ethnicity in the state since 2016.

So long as the Murphy administration plays it safe politically, Black people remain unsafe, legitimately. A paid holiday off work won’t change that. Sending out the Black lieutenant governor won’t make me feel any different.

Bio: Rann Miller directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey. He spent years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. He is the creator, writer, and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @UrbanEdDJ.

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