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Baraka unveils plans for phased reopening of Newark

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Siddharth PatilBroad Street in Newark, NJCC0 1.0

By Bradford Mason

As New Jersey begins opening back up, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka outlines plans for a phased reopening of his city that is slated to start in June.

Newark continues to be one of the hardest hit places in the nation by COVID-19 with the city seeing over 4,000 confirmed cases of the virus. Baraka said at a recent news conference that the first phase of the reopening is being called a “preparation.” Gov. Phil Murphy lifted some stay at home restrictions with the allowing stores to do curbside pickup, construction resuming and opening state beaches.

“Phase One is about us getting prepared to open. We’re advancing, but it also gives us room to retreat if the numbers go back up,” Baraka said. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our residents.”  

Baraka said his decision is based on data that shows a continued decline in COVID-19 cases and from the recommendations of the “Newark Reopening and Recovery Strikeforce.” The data collected shows while Newark has increased testing 100 percent, the percentage of people who have tested positive has dropped dramatically, as well as reported cases and deaths.

As word from state officials that some businesses were permitted to reopen, Baraka said he received reports of some business owners not following social distancing guidelines to serve customers and the city closed them.

“We shut down most of those stores yesterday, gave them an application to fill out, and told them they had to fill out an application and come up with a plan with how they’re going to do the curbside,” he said. “Because they have people who are trying on sneakers on the sidewalk, as I imagined, people trying on pants on the sidewalk, people getting their nails done on the sidewalk.”

As part of Phase One, Newark will institute a color-coded system for consumers to decide where they want to do businesses based on the risks involved. Businesses, restaurants, parks and other public places will display color-coded signage, with red being the highest risk area, yellow more moderate, and green the lowest risk area.

The Mayor gave the example of basketball courts probably being coded red because of the crowds and the nature of the game which does not favor social distancing.

“We want people to know if you go to these places, you run a high risk of getting sick,” he said.

Other Phase One components include:
  • Recreation centers, parks and playgrounds will remain closed; block parties and special events will remain on hold. All faith-based services can be held via teleconference or virtually. 
  • Information centers will be established in each ward and 4311 will be expanded to include a dedicated COVID-19 information hotline. Additionally, a technology task force will be created to develop a sustainable citywide strategy for universal access to Wi-Fi and the hardware necessary for remote learning.
  • An isolation and quarantine plan will be developed for those who cannot create one themselves. Guidance will be provided around emotional hurdles and fears related to medical mistrust.
  • Lastly, letters will be sent to all businesses requesting plans to ensure the safety of their employees and the general public. City licensing, approvals and permitting processes will be adjusted to streamline what can be expedited and waived.

Voting rights advocates hybrid primary election decision

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Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels
Urban News Staff Reports

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey applaud Governor Murphy’s decision to significantly expand vote-by-mail in our state while maintaining in-person voting options. 
The groups praised the Executive Order signed Friday as a smart approach to elections that recognizes that people should not have to choose between their health and their ability to participate in a democracy.
In March, the groups joined with over 30 other national, state, and community organizations to send recommendations ahead of the decision to the Governor, Secretary of State, and legislative leadership meant to ensure a safe and robust election during the public health crisis. Several of those recommendations, including automatically sending postage paid vote-by-mail ballots to voters, maintaining in-person voting opportunities, providing secure ballot drop boxes, and relaxing the deadline for vote-by-mail ballots to be received, were adopted.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed deep cracks in our society’s foundation, which are causing earthquakes in Black and Brown communities,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We applaud Gov. Murphy for his leadership and for hearing our call to strengthen our foundation by choosing democracy. Expanding both vote-by-mail and maintaining in-person polling places allows us to address the unprecedented public health crisis we are facing, while also ensuring that no one is left behind in our elections, particularly not our Black and Brown communities. We look forward to continuing to work together to build the most inclusive democracy in America right here in New Jersey.”
"In these extraordinary times, maintaining and expanding access to the ballot are urgent, and we applaud Gov. Murphy for taking steps to safeguard the health of our democracy and the public health of our state," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha.  "As the pandemic exacerbates racial injustices across many fault lines, we must take measures to ensure the most fundamental rights are protected, particularly for communities of color who have been routinely disenfranchised since our founding. Both robust vote-by-mail and in-person voting are necessary so that residents don't have to choose between their health and their right to vote. Coordinating an election during a public health crisis will be challenging -- we stand ready to work together and make sure the right to vote withstands this test of its strength." 
The organizations continue work to address remaining voting rights issues including concerns surrounding voter registration deadlines, vote-by-mail tracking and curing procedures, and voter education to combat misinformation. 
“We applaud the steps Governor Murphy has taken to protect both public health and democracy,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “Now, we must remove remaining barriers to the ballot and ensure that every vote counts.”
The League of Women Voters of New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice are available to assist voters if they have questions or believe their voting rights have been violated. 

But some of my best friends are Black...

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Image by Marie Sjödin from Pixabay 
By Glenn Townes

After more than 30 years working as a journalist in both the Midwest and on the East coast, few things overwhelm me or leave me speechless. Granted, a lot of things make me angry, frustrated and in some cases, downright disgusted, seldom am I left so gobsmacked that instead of words and sentences, I can only mumble utterances and unkind expletives. That's exactly what happened a few weeks ago when I saw the profile picture of a Facebook friend with the words,  “I thank God everyday for my family and President Donald Trump”--emblazoned across the front of a sweet, smiling and wholesome family portrait. Unable to maintain my usual composure, levelheadedness and journalistic objectivity, I frantically hit the delete, backspace and escape keys on the keyboard until the image vanished from the computer screen. I unfriended the now former Facebook friend!

As I look back, I know why I had such an angry and knee-jerk reaction to a seemingly innocent photo with what I guess, some people, not me, would see as a warm, humble,  and welcoming message. In some peculiar way, the image and its words reminded me of a time when people made it a point to be politically correct, at least in public, while cleverly masking their true feelings and thoughts. For example, I recall countless times when, as a young boy growing up in a mostly white working class central New Jersey town, people would tell my parents, “We're not prejudiced! Some of our best friends are black people!” Even back then, I could read between the lines and knew what they were really trying to say. 

Fast forward 50 years later, and people continue to make similar comments—although the verbiage has progressed and kept in-step with the times. In fact, someone made it a point recently to say to me, “Glenn, some of my best friends and co-workers are African American, Hispanic, Asian, Gay and Transgender people. How could anyone ever accuse me of being a racist?” At the time, I grimaced then contorted my face to make a fake smile and in the snarkiest voice I could muster, I said, “Oh, well if only your best friends are people of color and of alternative lifestyles, then surely you can't be a bigot, who would think such a thing!”

As much as things change, they inevitably remain the same! By the way, I never did
re-friend my former Facebook friend. Perhaps, I in November!

Jobless and Broke in New Jersey

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Image by Cari Dobbins from Pixabay
By Glenn Townes

More than 750,000 jobs vanished last month due to COVID-19, according to figures released this week from the New Jersey labor department—add to the mix an unemployment rate that is slightly higher than the national jobless rate and the historic Garden state has indeed become a current state of despair.

According to statistics, about 757,000 jobs were lost across the state in April—a record and the state unemployment rate peaked at 15.3 percent—compared to an average of about 14.7 percent across the country. Economist predict the unemployment rate will remain perched at about 15 percent through the end of the year. The hardest hit industries include leisure and hospitality, trade, transportation and education with the loss of  more than half a million jobs. About $3.4 billion has been paid out in jobless benefits—a figure state economists said will continue to rise throughout the summer and fall.

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, state labor commissioner Robert Asaro Angelo said, “As our state was succeeding in flattening one curve {COVID-19}, it was natural to see a rise in another {unemployment}.” Asaro Angelo has faced mounting criticism including calls for him to resign as head of the labor from state politicos and constituents—citing ongoing issues in processing unemployment payments. Complaints include the handling of an enormous backlog of claims; computer malfunctions and improper processing of valid claims. For example, one claimant was approved for standard state unemployment benefits through a part time job, when he should have been denied and instead approved for the pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) as a self-employed individual. The gig worker has filed several appeals online; telephoned the office  and mailed several letters directly to Asaro Angelo. To date, the gig worker has not received a response or benefits for nearly 3 months.

“I'm dead broke and don't know what to do,” he said. “I'm afraid if I certify weekly for the regular unemployment I was approved for and should not have been, it would be considered committing unemployment fraud,” he said. “I'm eligible for PUA benefits and not regular unemployment benefits, but I can't get through to anyone to help me get it rectified.”

Lastly,  Asaro Angelo assures claimants that all valid claims will be processed, backdated and paid in full. However, the assurance is too little and too late for thousands of families across the state with no income.

Once recent Facebook message from a family in the central city of  Edison, read, in part, ...''Husband no work, both kids no work,,grandma no money and disabled..if not for my mother in law we would not have food. I'm not asking for money, but for help, PLEASE! How can we get our unemployment benefits? Stimulus? PLEASE HELP US!!