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Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Sumter opening statement on Social Justice Reform legislation

By NJ Globe Staff, June 15 2020 11:19 am

Text of Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee Chair Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson) on Social Justice Reform legislation considered today by her committee:

“Most of the bills that we will hear today are not new to the Legislature; however, they are timely nonetheless. As we look to resume the business of the people, there is an issue we must take a hard look at right now which is at the forefront of communities throughout the country. Thank you to the Speaker and leadership team for the support to hear testimony on today’s very aggressive agenda of social justice and decriminalization bills.

“We know that legislation is an action step to address the structural deficits in our laws.  Recognizing that enacting laws alone can’t fix racism, we must acknowledge that we are overtly face-to-face with an issue that has plagued America for centuries and that cannot continue to be overlooked.

“On Monday, May 25, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds Mr. George Floyd was killed in police custody. He was handcuffed and pleading, “I can’t breathe.” The officer, with his hands in his pockets, continued to place pressure on Mr. Floyd’s neck with his knee while being recorded by onlookers in broad daylight.

“We have seen daily protests, rallies held across the world including in our own New Jersey communities.  A mere week ago, we saw a NJ Corrections Officer mock the death of Mr. Floyd as Black Lives Matters protesters passed peacefully by.  The NJ Department of Corrections took immediate action by suspending the officer and issuing a statement about the hateful and disappointing behavior. Yet, this instance has not fallen silent on the hearts and minds of the citizens of New Jersey of all races. This was a painful reminder of what still lies beneath our long-standing fight for equality and justice for all. Think about it: New Jersey’s history of racial profiling, coming out in the open and addressed in only the last few decades, was a dark shadow cast on our communities and our law enforcement. We are still working to fix and rebuild trust because of it.

“Let’s be clear, I do not believe all police are the proverbial “bad apples”. Not at all.

“But we must acknowledge the inadequacies in the disproportionate policing and violence against African-Americans in this country.

“It has always been clear that things do not change overnight but we have to continue the fight for justice, to eradicate tolerance for racism and discrimination.  We knew this would be an enduring battle in the 20’s and 40’s, in 60’s and the 70’s. And here we are in 2020, again lifting the plight of a people in this country into the light. While serving in public service, we are here to make it count and speak for the voiceless, for the mothers and fathers who have loss sons and daughters and for the generations of families impacted by trauma.

“Today we will have testimony from colleagues who are the sponsors of the legislation aiming to reverse the course of mass incarceration in this state, to create accountability for police brutality, to discourage false reporting because of a person’s race or lifestyle behavior, to empower citizens to participate in the process of criminal justice reform and to require mandatory training for implicit bias in cultural diversity for our law enforcement.

“There’s much to listen to today with an open mind and for the betterment and safety of New Jersey’s communities. Let’s begin.”

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