Lindi Bobb, 6, attends a slavery reparations protest outside New York Life Insurance Company offices August 9, 2002 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
As lawmakers prepare to vote on a slew of bills during the first voting sessions since Election Day, several advocacy groups are pushing them to support a bill that would create a task force to explore reparations over slavery.
The bill, A711/S322, hasn’t received a vote since it was introduced in January 2020.
Activists say reparations are a long overdue way to address systemic racism and the racial disparities and inequities that still exist today in every corner of life for Black New Jerseyans.
New Jersey was the last Northern state to ban slavery, and at first refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery except as punishment for a crime. New Jersey formally ended slavery in 1866, when then-Gov. Marcus Ward signed a state Constitutional Amendment banning the practice, three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
Slavery led to inequities that still permeate across Black New Jerseyan’s lives, activists say, pointing to a report that found Black people in New Jersey are incarcerated at a rate more than 12 times of white people (more than double the national rate). Another report found home ownership for Black households lags behind white households by 36 points in the Garden State. And while the median wealth for white New Jersey families is $352,000, Black families’ median income is just a fraction, at $6,100, another study found.
The bill would not immediately begin paying out reparations to New Jersey’s Black residents: The measure would create a task force that would research and publish a report to make the case for state-based reparations. The task force, made up of 11 members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would also make policy recommendations “that seek to repair the harm” that resulted from slavery, according to the bill.
The task force, which must include at least four people recommended by groups involved with civil and human rights and racial equity, would hold six public meetings to discuss New Jersey’s history in slavery, and issue a report within two years.
In 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy said he’d be “open-minded” to reparations. Prime sponsors for the bills include several Black lawmakers, including state Sens. Ronald Rice, Sandra Cunningham, and Troy Singleton and Assemblywomen Britnee Timberlake and Shavonda Sumter, all Democrats.
At a rally planned for outside the Statehouse Thursday, activists plan to shine a spotlight on the reparations task force bill and another measure (S2963) that would authorize the creation of civilian review boards for local police departments and give them subpoena power.
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