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NAACP: Federal negligence responsible for increase in COVID-19 cases

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Pixabay photo
Urban News Staff Reports

The NAACP released the following statement in regards to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases spreading across the United States:

The recent news of record spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country is truly alarming. Our nation is in peril because of this pandemic and as a result of negligence by this Administration in the infancy of this virus and its refusal to lead on critical preventive measures now. Inaction, which disproportionately impacted the Black community, is now being compounded by inadequate oversight, as states were urged to reopen, prioritizing economic profits over the well-being of American citizens.

The notion that this virus that has now claimed over 120,000 American lives and offers a recent single-day record of over 50,000 cases will suddenly “disappear” is both egregious and dangerous to the American people. Recent confirmation by this Administration that federal funding to testing sites across the country will be cut as hospital admissions across seven-states hit record highs in the last week can only be considered social malpractice.

At a time where our country is becoming even more vulnerable by the spread of COVID-19, the need for continued funding for expanded testing and nationwide protocols that follow the guidelines recommended by public health experts — wearing face coverings in public, maintaining physical distance, exercising proper hygiene, minimizing crowds and reopening businesses carefully — should be the only alternative to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect and save lives. These measures will also help us move forward together as safely as possible.

As numerous states pause reopening efforts and reenact more stringent policies and practices for social engagement, we urge all federal, state and local government leaders to take necessary precautions toward an effective and responsible resuming of activities and to ensure that the lives of our people are weighed more prominently than economic profits.

Camden Police Reforms, While Successful, May Be Tough to Replicate

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Former Camden Police Chief J. Scott Thomson (left) and current Camden Police Chief Joseph D.  Wysocki (Camden Police Department photo) George Floyd Protest in Newark (People's Organization for Progress photo)
By D. Kevin McNeir
Executive Editor, New Jersey Urban News

In the weeks following the death of George Floyd whose demise occurred due to the actions of police officers in Minneapolis, frequent references have been made to Camden – a city known just under a decade ago for its ineffective, albeit highly-overzealous, police department and a crime rate which ranked at the top among all U.S. municipalities.

But after the city faced a disturbing spike in its homicide rate in 2012 – the most violent year in Camden’s history – none could argue that change was essential. And like the proponents in Minneapolis today who are calling for a total disbanding of the department, Camden’s transformation began by starting from scratch.

In 2012, Camden, with a population of 77,000, tallied 67 homicides, 172 shooting victims and 175 open-air drug markets. Police often left crime scenes unattended, forced to move on and respond to another shooting. Children could not walk to school safely. And the city’s murder rate was 18 times more than the national average. As a means of comparison, more people were killed in Camden that year than were killed in New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Hawaii combined.

Today, the much-changed Camden County Police Department is led by Joseph D. Wysocki, a 50-year-old veteran police officer, who serves as the chief of police. Recently, Wysocki was captured in an image marching with city residents protesting the police-involved murder of Floyd and surrounded by a group of mostly Blacks wearing T-shirts or holding signs which read “Black Lives Matter.”

But Wysocki owes part of his success to the efforts of J. Scott Thomson, the former chief (2008-2019), who overcame the objections of citizens, the police union and city officials in the overhauling of the department to establish an effective relationship between the police and city residents through a carefully-constructed community policing model and strategy.

However, as Thomson has said on numerous occasions, their hard-fought success was only possible because of a team effort that included the mayor, city council, the governor and, of course, a revamped police department.

Thomson spoke to the process of remaking the city’s culture in a recently-published editorial in The Washington Post.

“The police were not always helping. The city needed guardians but officers saw themselves as warriors seeking to dominate criminals through toughness. Citizens didn’t trust us . . . I was handcuffed by legacy work rules and binding arbitrator decisions that made it difficult to hold officers accountable for misconduct or poor performance.”

“So we started from scratch. We let every city police officer go and created a new department with new rules in 2013. By agreement with Camden County, the city ceased to fund its department and instead paid the county to police the city of Camden. We required all officers to apply as new hires and committed to a new relationship between Camden’s police and its citizens, around 95 percent of whom are minorities.”

Among the changes that Thomson would implement were: a clear definition of “reasonable force” which was developed through the assistance of New York University’s Policing Project; a new set of rules for officers which emphasized that de-escalation had to come first; the implementation of cameras and devices to detect gunfire throughout the city; the redirection of police from desks and precincts to the streets where they could establish relationships with citizens, especially youth.

Clearly, Minneapolis and Camden are two very different cities. But much can be learned from the incremental changes that occurred within the department – something which Thomson says remained critical if real change is going to take place and be effective.

“It’s an industry that generally is averse to any type of change,” Thomson said to a CNN reporter.

But change did occur, albeit slowly. At the end of 2019, homicides in Camden were down 63 percent with total crime at its lowest in decades. With its police force rebuilt, Camden’s residents enjoyed a much safer city and celebrated a police department that significantly-reduced the use of excessive force.

Minneapolis City Councilmembers have vowed to disband the current police department but have yet to provide specifics – that is, what or who will replace it if the department disbands. However, given the positive results to which Camden can point, the process which was followed does serve as an example that bears careful analysis by city officials and law enforcement representatives in Minneapolis.

“There’s a raging debate right now about ‘defunding’ the police but it’s missing the point,” Thomson writes. “Communities need police. What they don’t need is a cop with a warrior’s psyche and in occupier’s mentality. Camden’s transformation wasn’t about getting rid of police or reducing their authority. It was about increasing our legitimacy by convincing citizens that we understood our role. We didn’t reinvent policing so much as reset it to what it always should have been.”

“Policing works in a democratic society only when it has the consent of the people. The old Camden city police department had forgotten that.”

Newark water lead levels fall below EPA standards

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Pixabay photo
Urban News Staff Reports

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka annoyed at a press conference on Thursday that the latest testing results of lead levels in Newark’s water show a significant drop below federal exceedance levels. 

The press conference was held across from St. Michael’s Hospital where Baraka said several city agencies and experts work together to reach the milestone.

“This is the result of outstanding work of the Administration, scientists and other experts in our Water & Sewer Department, our engineering firm CDM Smith and all of our county, state and federal government partners,” Baraka said. “Mostly, it is a day to thank Newark residents for their patience and cooperation as we work diligently to deliver them the purest water possible. Almost 13,000 of our 18,720 lead lines have been replaced and we won’t stop until lead is eradicated from our water system.”

Last May, the City began introducing orthophosphate into the water system to control corrosion of lead service lines, which connect older, small buildings and homes to the City’s water mains. Large apartment houses, office buildings and institutions were not impacted, nor were buildings constructed after 1953, the year the City banned the use of lead in service lines.

“Aging infrastructure and lead exposure in drinking water has plagued communities throughout the state and across the nation for decades,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “New Jersey must continue to move forward to remediate this issue and work collaboratively across all levels of government to remove the dangers of lead from our communities. I applaud Mayor Baraka and the City of Newark for their commitment to replacing thousands of lead service lines to ensure safe drinking water and modern infrastructure for their residents.”

Last December, water samples showed a 74 percent drop in lead levels to an average of 17.3 ppb after seven months of the new corrosion control.

Director Adeem said the new results were attainable because the community cooperated with the City by using water to help coat the lead pipes, allowing workers quick access to their homes for lead line replacement and showing “patience” through the process.

“It’s always important when we see progress to thank the residents,” Director Adeem said. “They have been patient, cooperative and worked with us to solve this situation as a community.”

In the spring of 2016, Newark began to experience elevated lead levels in several schools, as one in eight samples showed exceedances above 15 ppb. Bottled water was brought in for drinking, and wider sampling showed only five percent of the exceedances were from drinking sources.

City and state officials began investigating the cause and, in the spring of 2017, exceedances were noted in 10 of 100 samples taken from private homes. As with the schools, residents were notified of their exceedances through their water bills, City mailers and town hall meetings, and testing continued. The next several cycles of testing, and a lead-line biopsy by the EPA, showed the corrosion system from the Pequannock treatment plant, which serves less than half the City, had faltered.

Within days of that finding, the City began distributing 40,000 filters, which eventually proved 99 percent effective in reducing lead levels when flushed properly. The City continues to offer cartridge replacements for free and instructions on how to install and properly maintain the filters. 

“That was our short-term fix,” Mayor Baraka said. “But we knew the only permanent solution was replacing all 18,720 plus lead lines in the City.”

NJBOE returns control of public schools to Newark

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Pixabay photo
Urban News Staff Reports

The New Jersey State Board of Education (NJBOE) votes to return full local control to the Newark School District, nearly 25 years to the day after the state assumed control of district operations.

“This is a historic day for Newark, and a day for celebration,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “For a quarter century, the local board of education in Newark has not had the full power to make decisions for their community. Today, full local control of the public schools has been restored to the people of Newark so that the local school board can address the unique needs of the school community.”

“We know that schools operate most effectively when they have the support and buy-in of stakeholders in the community,” said Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet. “This milestone came about through the sheer determination and dedication of so many people at the local level, including parents, educators, school administrators and civic leaders.”

On July 5, 1995, the State Board of Education removed the authority of the Newark Board of Education and took control of the school district, which had struggled for years with academic and management issues. A 2005 law created the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability System (NJQSAC), a system to monitor all school districts in five key areas: Instruction & Program; Governance; Fiscal; Operations; and Personnel. The NJQSAC monitoring system is used by the Department of Education to determine whether to return state-operated districts to the control of the local board of education.

Three years ago, the State Board determined that Newark Public Schools had made sustained progress in all five functional areas, and in 2018 the Department collaborated with the district to implement a two-year transition plan to local control. The Department enlisted an independent entity, the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University, to establish a Comprehensive Accountability Office (CAO) to assess the school district’s quantitative progress toward meeting benchmarks in the transition plan, as measured by metrics on an Accountability Scorecard. In addition, a Highly Skilled Professional, Ms. Anzella Nelms, was hired by the Department to assist the district in implementing the transition plan and to provide qualitative observations regarding the district’s progress.

On Wednesday, the State Board received the final reports of the CAO and the Highly Skilled Professional, which both affirmed the district’s substantial and sustainable progress. After Commissioner Repollet recommended the district be returned fully to local control, the Board adopted a resolution approving the withdrawal of Newark Public Schools from state intervention.

"Today marks a historic moment for the Newark public school system as the State Board of Education voted to fully return our schools to local control. This is a credit to the hard work of every school board member, superintendent, staffer, teacher and of course student who has risen to meet the challenges our schools have faced. As we move towards a new future, the mission must remain the same - elevate every one of our students towards academic excellence. I am proud of today and look forward to the important work of the future,” said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. “Our city's education system has seen steady improvements in recent years and I fully expect that with Superintendent Leon's leadership, our students will continue to see a rise in standards, supportive services and quantifiable results."

“Today’s vote marks a new and exciting chapter for the Newark Public Schools,” said Kathy Goldenberg, President of the State Board of Education. “I am confident that the students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, superintendent, and board members of the Newark Public Schools will continue to demonstrate the success that stems from community-driven and student-focused efforts.”

"This is truly a historic day in Newark and we are grateful to all who have contributed to this momentous occasion,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León. “We have learned from the past, are preparing for a promising future, and are committed to working tirelessly to provide a first-class education for all of the children of the City of Newark.”