Candidate Hector Oseguera: An Interview


On May 10 at a rally to protest police brutality following the May 5 melee on Bostwick Avenue in Greenville, we briefly interviewed Hector Oseguera, candidate for Congress  in next week’s Democratic primary. Last week we reached out to Oseguera with some follow-up questions about his insurgent campaign but have not yet heard back.

Yesterday, Oseguera received a boost when Jersey City Ward E Councilman James Solomon endorsed him.

With the recent presumed primary victories of progressive candidates over establishment incumbents in New York, we thought publishing the interview now, despite the lack of follow-up, would serve our readers. We reached out to incumbent Albio Sires for an interview as well.

 

JCT: Tell me about yourself and what brought you out today.

HO: I’m running for congress in New Jersey’s 8th district against a political boss, Albio Sires, who’s held this position for the better part of the last 14 years and doesn’t really have much of a presence in the district. Everybody I actually talk to tells me that he actually lives in Ft. Meyers [Florida], and I’m here supporting the brothers … who were disgusted by the incident of police brutality that happened just a couple of days ago.

When we put public trust in people, whether that be police officers or politicians, we have to hold their feet to the fire when incidents like this occur. And what I saw on video was clearly an act of brutality. I saw young men on the ground, face down, in a defensive position, being battoned. I saw what looked to me to be more of a WWF melee than an act of law and order. You can tell people to get on the ground, you can tell people to stop fighting, you can use words to de-escalate, you can even use physical strength to de-escalate. When I see people in a defensive position not fighting, taking a baton to the body, that looks like police brutality to me. And it’s an incident I think we’ve all seen repeated and repeated throughout history. And so when you see incidents like this, you know our communities are skeptical of somebody who says, “Well, he reached” because we’ve heard that excuse before. Well, he reached for a gun, he reached for whatever, he reached for a weapon. But the video honestly speaks for itself … I saw a man try to break up the fight and then have to retreat because he was being beaten by the police.

JCT: What should the mayor or public safety director do?

HO: The officers involved should be scrutinized. We should know if they’ve been involved in other incidents like this where people have brought up claims of them having beaten them. The police officers [involved] should absolutely not be on active duty right now. There should be full public transparency. The young brother Nevin [Nevin Perkins] who set this [rally] up has a list of demands, and I am in favor of all of those. We should have a community board that is not tied to the political establishment here in Jersey City that should review the tape, review the incident, take statements from the people who were there, and decide on whether those police officers should remain on the force or not.

JCT: Tell me about your background.

HO: I was born in Hoboken at what was then St. Mary’s Hospital, now Hoboken City University. Raised in West New York.  I’m an attorney. I work in the anti-money laundering industry, so my career has been spent combatting corruption in our financial system, and I want to extend that to our political system really soon. I work for banks, I usually work for banks in Latin America. I’ve worked for two Spanish banks, and now I work for UBS [Union Bank of Switzerland] … I spend my days reviewing wires and checking to see if the financial activity underlying those wires looks legitimate or if it requires additional scrutiny which could end in what is known in the industry as a “suspicious activity report” that goes to the Treasury Department.

JCT: Where do you live know?

HO: I live in Union City. Lifelong resident.

JCT: How’s your campaign going?

HO: It’s going really well. In terms of the Covid, obviously our field operations have come to a halt. But at a time like this, campaigns are working off a digital-first strategy, and I think that that’s something that absolutely advantages a young, scrappy campaign like mine. My opponent doesn’t even have a website. If  you go to AlbioSires.com you’ll be directed to my fundraising page. He doesn’t have a website, he doesn’t have any kind of digital presence. He has neither a physical nor digital presence in the district. So, under normal circumstances a campaign like mine would be under a lot of pressure to overcome a financial disparity between an incumbent and somebody like myself. But at a time like this, those power disparities have really flattened because we’re all confined to the same digital spaces, which is the only real way to make any sort of real outreach.

JCT: When did you announce that you were running?

HO: In October of last year, so I haven’t been at this that long.

JCT: How do you plan to overcome the Hudson County Democratic Organization?

HO: The HCDO fancies itself incredibly powerful. But the fact of the matter is, they just rely on a subset of the voters to turn out regularly. If we can animate any segment of our population to take this race seriously and to understand that the future of our district is at stake: Organizations like Mom’s Demand Action are concerned about the future of our district, or environmental groups are worried about the future of our district … all sorts of activists in the immigration space, in all sorts of issues are really concerned about where our district is going. Our district outpaces the national average in so many metrics whether it be the uninsured rate, whether it’s the cost of housing, and if anybody in the district is concerned about where the future of our district is going, and if we can get them to turn out, the HCDO is not nearly as powerful as they think themselves to be.

 

Photo by Aaron Morrill

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Covid-19 and Anti-Body Testing for the Far South Side


Interfaith Urgent Care and State of New Jersey partner with Cityline Church, Jersey City Together, and the City of Jersey City to bring Covid-19 and Anti-Body Testing to Jersey City’s Far South Side from July 1 to July 3.

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week (July 1-3) from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. each day, a team of organizations will work together to bring Covid-19 and Anti-Body testing to Jersey City’s Far South Side. The testing opportunity is a partnership between the State of New Jersey, Interfaith Urgent Care, Cityline Church, Jersey City Together, and the City of Jersey City.

Testing is free and open to all, regardless of where you live or whether you have insurance. Pre-registration is strongly requested (at www.njtogether.org/testing ). Photo ID and insurance are requested but not required.

Bishop Dr. Joshua Rodriguez, senior pastor of the Cityline Church and a leader with Jersey City Together, said: “It is critical that healthcare and Covid-19 testing reach everyone in our city and state, including those who are most vulnerable. Cityline Church and other congregations as part of Jersey City Together are committed to expanding community-based testing at trusted institutions in our communities. We know regular testing will be critical to reaching many of the communities that have been hardest hit by this pandemic and re-opening our economy, and this week is just a beginning.”

The testing will be conducted by Rabbi Abe Friedman’s Interfaith Urgent Care. Interfaith Urgent Care has been conducting Covid-19 and Anti-Body Testing in New York and New Jersey in partnership with religious congregations, with thousands already tested. All are welcome and encouraged to register and get tested – www.njtogether.org/testing.

Read more about our coverage of Covid-19 testing here.

 

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Schools Leaders Elaborate on September Reopening


June 25 School Board Meeting Also Dedicated to Budget, Moore School, Racial Equity

Jersey City Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker said that the city’s board of education is on track to deliver a balanced budget for SY2020-21 while it prepares for a September reopening of schools under state guidelines. School closings due to Covid-19 and a school year-end shortfall of $125 million were obstacles Jersey City’s Board of Education faced in the 2019-20 school year.

“We plan to start school in September with in-person instruction,” Superintendent Walker said. “There is a committee that is responsible for the re-opening. Dr. Norma Fernandez [Deputy Superintendent] is spearheading that. We have 30,000+ students. The charter, parochial, and private schools are waiting for us to make decisions. We want to coordinate services with the other schools. We know we have an impact on those schools, too, so we have to be careful so that it will be for everyone.”

State guidelines for September reopening unveiled by Governor Murphy’s office on June 26 will also contribute significantly to Jersey City’s local plans.

The Jersey City Board of Education started the 2019-20 school year with a $120 million budget shortfall, according to Superintendent Walker, but through efficiencies and the payroll tax it is on track to deliver a balanced budget, he said.

September Reopening Plans

Superintendent Walker outlined three September reopening plans based on varying risks the pandemic may present at the time. The least restrictive plan features enhanced safety precautions, social distancing, considerable reliance on hand sanitizers and masks, and increased cleaning of heavily trafficked areas. A second plan based on a higher public health risk, focuses on distance learning with face-to-face instruction and reduced class sizes; the third and most restrictive plan includes full-distance learning wherein  all students participate in lessons that meet the standards with pacing, interactive experiences, graded assignments, and assessments.

“Remote (learning) is here to stay,” Walker said. “We are going to fine-tune that to get the best out of our teaching and learning for our students.”

In any and all cases, Jersey City will take its cues for September reopening from the state and the Centers for Disease Control.

Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker

Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker

“We’ll have to redesign the (schools) for social distancing,” the superintendent said. “I don’t have the expertise for that. We’re in the process of [contracting with] a company that has done this in other places and will look at our environment and develop a plan that supports the social distancing structure. We have identified needs regarding masks, cleaning supplies. We have training that’s coming in so custodians will be trained how to clean. It’s a different day. Another goal is to hire additional custodians. We need to have a cleaning schedule, a bathroom schedule where people are cleaning on a regular basis and document these things are taking place. It takes a different kind of mindset to support those situations. As soon as we receive guidance [from the state], we will proceed with our plans.”

Grants and Partnerships

Superintendent Franklin gave an update on progress the JCBOE has made, raising close to $10 million for the schools through grants. He said a dual educational component with local colleges and universities along with professional development for new administrators will also be implemented this fall.

In the 2019-20 school year, the board of education established a grants department where approximately 116 grants, which included five-year grants, formula grants, and charitable donations, have raised $5.6 million for the schools. Eight grants that bring in an additional $4.6 million are still pending.

For SY2020-21, the JCBOE has formed partnerships with St. Peter’s University, New Jersey City University, and Hudson County Community College for dual education at high schools. It will use Title I funding to hire instructional specialists to provide professional development to teachers in the district, and the board has joined the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline to support new and aspiring administrators.

Parents Talk

During the virtual meeting, trustees heard from 17 residents who called in — mostly parents concerned about sending their children to school while the Covid-19 pandemic is still a threat. Nancy Pokier, whose child attends P.S. 5, said she wanted better communication from the school board on its plans to reopen schools.

“I would like more information, details, and updates on how these plans will be implemented,” Pokier said. “What is the plan for a safe school environment? What is the plan if a child or teacher tests positive for Covid-19? Will all schools have a full-time nurse, enough custodians? Come September, schools will need adequate custodial staff. What is the plan if schools don’t open, and we have to resume remote learning? What will be required of students for at-home learning? How will kids who fall behind be lifted up to success? As a parent, I need to know the process and the details. We can’t wait until late August. I urge you to show us the wheels are in motion, so we are prepared to provide a thorough education to all of our kids.”

Denise Smith, a parent of two Jersey City public school students, thanked her children’s teachers for their hard work. She said they have been doing well with remote learning, and the teachers have been reaching out to the students.

“I wanted to say something positive about the teachers in the district,” Smith said.

The youngest caller was Barbara Ioffe, a grade five student from P.S. 16. She stressed how important it is to her to get back to school in September and that she especially misses her classmates.

“I’m the kind of kid who loves going to school,” Ioffe said. “I understand the importance of the school closing, but please let us return. I’ve been in this school for a very long time. Please let us know as soon as you can.”

Maritza Ortiz, a parent of a student in special education classes at P.S.28, said she was concerned there were no field trips or after school programs for children in special ed classes.

“My son has never been on a field trip with his class, and he has no behavioral issues,” Ortiz said. “Special ed kids need resources and more help. They need after school tutoring.

A. Harry Moore School Restored

A. Harry Moore School

In February, a portico collapsed at A. Harry Moore School, forcing students, faculty and administrators to relocate to temporary quarters at Regional Day School.

“After countless hours of work, our students at the A. Harry Moore School will be back in their newly remodeled building,” Superintendent Walker said, “and we have reached an agreement with NJCU to keep them there.”

“There was a parent who called in about special education and after school programs,” Trustee Alexander Hamilton said. “We had talked about this in our committee meeting to make sure something happens for special ed students after school. We are looking at that.”

Trustee Gerald Lyons suggested a committee should be assembled to address hate speech and racism.

“I can’t believe that’s taking place in Jersey City, one of the most diverse cities in the nation,” Lyons said. “Even on the posts, the inappropriate language, people are saying things … you just don’t say things like that. It shouldn’t be.”

Addressing Systemic Racism

School Board president Lorenzo Richardson closed the public portion of the school board meeting by addressing systemic racism. He said he has planned a training program for board members to better understand systemic racism so they may affect change.

“We must dismantle the systems of racism that divide us and come together as a village and support one another,” Richardson said. “I have already spoken to the board, and I am scheduling this board to have equity and unbiased training where we can learn more how we can affect change. We will also do an equity audit to take a comprehensive look at our policies to ensure they are fair, just, and do not support systemic racism. We must unite, or racism will destroy us all. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’”

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Indoor Dining is Postponed Indefinitely


Governor Phil Murphy announced today by Twitter that indoor dining is postponed indefinitely.

Due to Covid-19 spikes in other states that have resumed indoor dining, New Jersey will not allow it to resume as originally planned this Thursday.

Murphy said he is pausing the resumption of indoor dining because of examples across the state of overcrowding, a complete disregard for social distancing and few face coverings.  The numerous scenes in newspapers and on social media like this one from Jersey City Chief Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut cannot continue.

Murphy said “the carelessness of one establishment can completely undo the good work of many others.” “We will not tolerate outlier bars and restaurants – and, frankly, patrons who think the rules don’t apply to them.”

He concluded by saying that “compliance isn’t a polite suggestion, it is required.”

No other information was provided when indoor dining could resume.

For more Covid-19 information, please see our coverage here.

 

Header: Photo by Danielle Rice on Unsplash

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Guidance to Reopen Schools


Governor Phil Murphy and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet announced on June 26 the release of “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education,” which provides guidance to reopen schools this fall.

The plan announces that, absent a change in public health data, public schools will open for in-person instruction and in some capacity at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Individual school districts together with community stakeholders will be expected to develop plans that best fits their own district’s needs.

The guidance sets the minimum standards for returning to school and describes several health and safety standards to be prioritized in school reopening:

  1. Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom. This can be achieved by ensuring students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered. These include physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction (rather than facing each other)or having students sit on only one side of a table and spaced apart.
  2. Face coverings: School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is under two years of age. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained, unless doing so would inhibit the student’s health. It is necessary to acknowledge that enforcing the use of face coverings may be impractical for young children or certain individuals with disabilities.
  3. Limited capacity: It is recommended that students and staff be seated at least six feet apart in class when practicable. When weather allows, windows should be opened to allow for greater air circulation.
  4. Cleaning/disinfecting: Procedures must be implemented by each school district for the sanitization of school buildings and school buses. Increased hand washing measures are also important for students and staff.

These provisions are informed by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, which call for protecting staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as providing options for telework and virtual learning; providing reasonable accommodations for older adults (65 years and older) and individuals with serious underlying medical conditions; and, when possible, keeping early childhood students apart during naptime and avoiding close-group activities like reading circles.

Other provisions in the guidance include:

  1. Cafeteria directors should consider staggering meal times to allow for social distancing; discontinuing self-serve or buffet lines; having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms; and requiring staff to disinfect eating areas between groups.
  2. Recess should also be held in staggered shifts, with efforts to promote social distancing and hygiene protocols.
  3. Cohorting: Schools may wish to identify small groups of students and keep them together (cohorting) to ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible, thereby limiting exposure to large groups of students.
  4. School bus operators should encourage social distancing. CDC guidelines recommend seating on a school bus such that there is one student seated per row, skipping a row between each child, if possible. Barriers separating rows of bus seats may also be considered. If social distancing is not feasible, face coverings must be worn by students who are able to do so. Increased ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is also recommended in the guidelines.

As being able to reopen schools is dependent upon health data and informed by experts in the health field, districts will need to be prepared to switch to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year should circumstances change. The guidance stresses that each school district should be working to ensure every student has a device and internet connectivity available, and it identifies funding streams available to school districts to ensure students have access to technology.

Districts should strive to share preliminary scheduling plans to reopen schools with staff, families, and students at least four weeks before the start of the school year in order to allow families to plan childcare and work arrangements.

Click here for a summary of the guidance.

Click here for the full guidance.

For more on the Jersey City School Board’s plans to reopen schools, please see Sally Deering’s coverage J.C. School Board prepares for September reopening.

 

Header: Dickinson High School, Jersey City Times file photo

 

 

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Council Pauses on Liberty State Park Protection Act


With July 4 approaching, the Jersey City Council voted to table a vote on the resolution urging the state legislature to enact the Liberty State Park Protection Act until its next meeting on July 15.

As Wednesday’s council meeting got underway, Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson asked council members to table the vote on the Liberty State Park Protection Act to allow him the opportunity to meet with Ward F constituents to hear their concerns prior to the vote. Since Ward F borders Liberty State Park, Robinson felt constituents’ voices needed to be heard.

“I wanted to have a conversation with the community,” Councilman Robinson said. “I’m in a tough position, the ‘tale of two cities.’ I represent the downtown Van Vorst area, and I have a part of the community in Ward F crying out to let their voices be heard. Liberty State Park is right in the middle of it. Nobody wants to hurt Liberty State Park, especially not me. I’m not here to play politics. I’m asking for another month.”

In the public comments section of the meeting, 78 callers signed up to speak to the council, and close to 50 callers supported the Protection Act.

Protecting Liberty State Park and Caven Point’s Estuaries

Privatizing Liberty State Park has been an issue for the past 40 years according to Friends of Liberty State Park president Sam Pesin, whose father Morris Pesin and environmentalists and historians Audrey Zapp, Ted Conrad and J. Owen Grundy led the movement that created Liberty State Park in 1976. Since then, developers have built on privatized sections like the Liberty Landing Marina where pricey yachts are moored and Liberty House Restaurant, which boasts perfect views for splashy weddings and corporate and political shindigs.

Billionaire Paul Fireman built the Liberty National Golf Course at Liberty State Park, and in exchange for giving the park perks like new basketball courts and a golf-training program to underserved youth, he wants to take over Caven Point, one of the last undisturbed estuaries that provides a nesting area for sandpipers, songbirds, turtles, horseshoe crabs, egrets, osprey, and small animals. But according to a recent article in The New York Times, a Liberty National spokesman was more blunt, saying the land was needed to woo major PGA tournaments to Jersey City.

“If we are not able to accommodate what these tournaments need, then they will simply go somewhere else that can,” Chris Donnelly told the Times.

The council, along with members of the public, voiced concerns about Fireman’s proposed intention. Sam Pesin called in to ask the council to pass the resolution.

“The resolution is only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on whether you’re for or against privatization,” Pesin said. “My father, Morris Pesin, the park’s father, fought to have it an inclusive park, and the park users reflect our city’s beautiful diversity. The act would already have been law if not for Paul Fireman, so he can have a showpiece eye-candy golf course. Liberty Park is at a crossroads. This is a war for the public good. Fireman is wealthy and should just donate money for improvements without getting Caven Point as a quid pro quo. Please do the right thing. Stand up for the park.”

Councilman James Solomon, who introduced the Protection Act resolution, said there seems to be an agreement among the council members that the land will never be privatized, but that there’s a big fight ahead.

“We are fighting a billionaire,” Councilman Solomon said. “All Jersey City was unified on the Protection Act six months ago. The council passed it. The mayor was all in about it. It did not pass the state legislature. The assembly speaker killed it. We are fighting against an extremely powerful person with extraordinary influence. It requires us to push. To present a unified front.”

Dana Patton, a long-time resident of Ward F said the park is used every day by people in Ward F and every other Jersey City ward. She said the resolution supporting the park’s Protection Act would finally take away “the threat that is constant every year of casinos, racetracks, of every single thing that a billionaire wants to do to make money off this park that belongs to the people”.

“We shouldn’t have to keep fighting this fight,” Patton said. “This Protection Act does not prevent anyone from having active recreation in the park, from having free things for the public to do, for serving the public. I’m unclear about why there’s hesitation to support this act when this act is purely to keep private developers from being able to make money off of this park.”

Gregory Remaud works for the NY/NJ Baykeeper, a conservation organization that has worked in and around the New York Harbor for thirty years.

“I want to urge the council to approve the resolution to approve the Protection Act,” Remaud said. “It says our great park is a local and national treasure. It deserves the same protections and privileges as every park in the United States. With other parks, you don’t have the kind of nonsense where developers have a say of what happens and doesn’t happen. You don’t have that anyplace else. You have that at Liberty State Park.”

Retired school teacher, Steve Krinsky has lived in Jersey City for more than 30 years. As a teacher, Krinsky brought his students to Liberty State Park.

“I taught middle school Social Studies,” Krinsky said. “Liberty State Park was their introduction to nature, to the environment, to get away from the noise of the streets. At Caven Point beach, we would talk about how the Lenape Indians would come every day and pick food off the cherry trees and the blackberry trees. Before the Europeans arrived, Caven Point would be covered with oyster shells that the natives left behind. Caven Point is one of the last remaining saltmarshes on the New York waterfront. Please don’t let anyone destroy this amazing spot. Let’s make Caven Point a destination point for children of Jersey City to learn about wildlife habitats and history.”

After listening to hours of callers supporting the Liberty State Park Protection Act, the resolution was about to come up for a vote. Councilman Solomon agreed that the conversation Councilman Robinson proposed was an important one, but likely wouldn’t resolve much before the next council meeting on July 15.

“I don’t want to withdraw it,” Councilman Solomon said. “For me, it’s something that’s important to take a clear stand on.”

Councilman Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., agreed, saying that postponing the vote made it seem like the council was not standing its ground against privatization. Council President Joyce E. Watterman said she preferred tabling the resolution so the council can show unity on July 15, while giving Councilman Robinson time to talk to Ward F constituents.

“I’m trying to keep this council together to send a strong message that we are one on this issue,” Council President Watterman said. “That will send a message. Us divided does not send a message. That’s why I will vote to table it, so when we come back, we will have one voice. We can’t keep ignoring Ward F. I’m listening, and there were some people from Ward F, I haven’t heard their voice. Councilman Robinson wants to talk to them. Why can’t we grant that?  I vote to table it to July 15.”

Council approved the motion to table the Liberty State Park Protection Act in a 7-2 vote with Councilmen Solomon and Lavarro dissenting.

In other news, the council also voted to uphold the state’s ban on fireworks.

 

Photos courtesy of Shayna Marchese and Friends of Liberty State Park

 

 

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NJ’s COVID-19 Death Toll Now Nearly 15,000 After State Reviews Cases


Health officials attribute additional 1,854 deaths to the virus; NJ Spotlight analysis finds further 2,366 unexplained deaths from March to May

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Colleen O’Dea

The number of people dead from COVID-19 in New Jersey is likely about 2,000 higher than the state had been reporting, as officials announced Thursday in their first count of probable deaths due to the virus.

During his daily media briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that state health officials had combed through death data and are attributing an additional 1,854 deaths since March 4 — the day the first case was announced — to the novel coronavirus. On top of 26 new lab-confirmed deaths, the total number of New Jerseyans who have died as a result of the pandemic is now nearly 15,000.

There could still be more. An NJ Spotlight comparison of the most recent data on total deaths  this year for March, April and May with the five-year average for those months and the total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths for the period shows more than 4,200 “excess” deaths. Subtracting the 1,854 likely COVID-19 deaths from that total still leaves 2,366 excess deaths unexplained.

Earlier this month, experts told NJ Spotlight that home deaths, heart attacks and strokes likely related to the virus probably explain many of the excess deaths.

State health officials have been saying for weeks that they were working to try to capture likely viral deaths that had not been lab-confirmed in order to provide the most accurate picture of the virus’ death toll.

“In one day, we are significantly adding to the already weighty toll this pandemic has had on our state, and on so many families,” Murphy said in announcing the new data. “We report this out of nothing else than a solemn sense of duty. For many families, we hope that these determinations will provide a sense of closure, and of finally knowing. And for our state, I hope it steels our resolve to do all we can to save every single life we can.”

Calculating NJ’s probable COVID-19 deaths

Ed Lifshitz, medical director of the communicable disease service at the state Department of Health, described the process used to calculate the probable COVID-19 deaths:

  • People who had a viral test done that was less trustworthy than the standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test being used;
  • Those who died as part of an outbreak, many in long-term care settings, and had COVID-19 symptoms, but were never tested;
  • People whose death certificates mention COVID-19 as among the causes.

Doing all this background work is “a slow process and that’s the process that has taken us really months to catch up on, although at this point we’re essentially caught up as far as those results go at this point,” he said.

About a third of the 1,854 probable COVID-19 deaths are from long-term care settings, Lifshitz said. Nursing homes and similar setting have been breeding grounds for the virus, and the deaths of both residents and staff have been particularly high because so many of those who live in these facilities have underlying conditions that make them susceptible to complications from COVID-19. DOH data shows that almost half of all lab-confirmed deaths are related to long-term care.

Lifshitz said the state plans to update the number of probable deaths once a week.

New Jersey now joins the majority of states in reporting confirmed and probable deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows 26 other states, as well as New York City and Puerto Rico, reporting probable deaths.

No nationwide standard for reporting deaths

There has been some debate among states and medical experts over the reporting of COVID-19 deaths, with currently no nationwide standard. That means the actual number of deaths nationally, which the CDC placed Wednesday at 121,117, could be higher. More than 7,600 of those were probable. The CDC changed its reporting of COVID-19 deaths on April 14 to include those deaths confirmed by a lab test and those that were likely caused by the disease because they meet clinical or epidemiological criteria, as well as those in which a death certificate lists the virus as a cause.

Because state health officials used recognized standards to determine probable deaths, there are still more than 2,300 excess deaths officially unexplained in the state to date. If those deaths were all attributed to COVID-19, the state’s total death toll would exceed 17,000. But the total number of deaths may never be known.

“We make no claim that we can possibly count every single person who’s been affected or every single person who’s died,” Lifshitz said. “But we do our best to get the numbers out there as accurately as we can.”

 

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The Battle to Protect the Homeless from Covid-19


Jersey City is strategically — and effectively — protecting its homeless population from severe and fatal complications from Covid-19. For now.

Indeed, homeless individuals nationwide have fared better during the pandemic than experts feared when they began prepping for Covid-19 in March. Still, experts agree problems for the homeless remain dire even in a post-Covid world.

Perhaps no one is more surprised at the current national picture than Bobby Watts, CEO of National Health Care for the Homeless Council, a Nashville-based nonprofit advocacy group that receives funding from government and private sources.

In mid-March, Watts predicted the coronavirus would “spread like wildfire” among the country’s homeless given their particularly vulnerable status. But based on data collected as of May 29 from federally-funded health centers that serve the homeless, out of 59,345 homeless men and women tested, 1,603 had Covid-19 symptoms, a 3.2 percent rate that is much lower than had been expected.

For the most part, “in congregant settings the results are not as bad as we feared,” he said.

Still, there have been some notable exceptions to the rule. A small cluster of five people in a Boston shelter were found to be infected initially, but the number eventually climbed to 70, for example. And a Nashville mission with 500 residents reported one of five residents tested positive.

Many shelters have tried to practice social distancing by installing plexiglass to separate staff from residents and by spreading out beds, Watts said. Some larger shelters have reduced capacity by half and sent residents to alternate care sites or motels.

“Those mitigation efforts have been somewhat positive,” Watts reported, “but when we do see coronavirus cases, a lot are more asymptomatic than we feared. … It’s really variable. We don’t know how or why people are getting sick.”

Whether the coronavirus has struck down any of the homeless clients in the NHCHC survey Watts couldn’t say. That information will come from a more detailed, follow-up review that the council and the Centers for Disease Control are jointly undertaking.

Meanwhile, Jersey City has been pursuing a four-pronged response to keeping the homeless safe.

A trailer has been set up near the Journal Square PATH station that offers showers, toiletries, socks, and food to those living on the streets as well as in shelters. Secured through the city’s Office of Emergency Management, the facility is open and staffed Monday to Friday, 7 to 10 a.m.

“We’ve been seeing an average of a dozen people a day,” said Stacey Flanagan, Jersey City director of Health & Human Services. “We hope we’re building greater trust for them to seek the next level of help – getting tested [for the virus] at any of the county congregate network of shelters.”

If more people show up, there are tentative plans for expanded hours, she said.

Prong two involves overnight accommodations for the homeless.

Hudson County Board of Social Services — which was recently awarded $109,345 in federal Emergency Solutions Grant funds to aid the homeless – gets federal grants to contract with shelters out of concern that those facilities, with occupants crowded in dormitory settings and shared bathrooms, wouldn’t be appropriate for older clients presenting Covid-19 symptoms or with chronic health issues, said Frank Mazza, deputy director of the department.

“The fear was huge that this kind of environment would be an incubator for the coronavirus, especially among this population,” Mazza said.

And anyone infected would have to “shelter in place,” taking up space normally reserved for walk-ins.

So, the county contracted with the owner of five motels along Tonnelle Avenue to accept homeless persons at risk for developing acute symptoms of Covid-19 should they become infected: those aged 60 or above and/or those with underlying medical issues. To pay for their board, the county uses grant money it gets from federal emergency housing programs.

As of a week or so ago, there were 320 people staying in motel rooms with private sleeping quarters and bathrooms. About 80 percent are singles and the rest families of two or more, according to Mazza. They receive meals from the county three times a week.

A third measure unveiled by the county, is the Covid-19 “stepdown” Unit, a makeshift shelter that houses, treats and feeds primarily homeless individuals who had been hospitalized with Covid-19 and now need to remain isolated for the remainder of their care. The facility is located on Palisade Avenue in the Heights and has 94 beds (occupants are kept safely apart from each other).

The program is a partnership between agencies providing funding (the Hudson County Division of Welfare and the New Jersey Department of Family Development) and those providing healthcare CarePoint Health and Alliance Community Health). Alliance, a federally-qualified health center, is handling follow-up testing of the patients.

“We’re talking about a population, many of whom, if they had no place else to go, would likely be out on the street,” said Alliance CEO Marilyn Cintron. “We’re making sure they have a safe place to quarantine.”

“Of the 500 tested on site [since mid-April] we had about a 27% positivity rate,” she said. None have died. One person needed to be re-hospitalized, but according to Cintron, that person is now doing well.

Finally, Jersey City is working with the World Economic Forum (and an unnamed third party) to retrofit a school bus to serve as a mobile homeless shelter. Big enough to accommodate toilets, showers, a washer/dryer unit, and mini-office with Wi-Fi and microwave, the project was inspired by a program halfway around the world.

“We’re looking at what they’re doing with this concept in India as our model,” Flanagan said. The cost of reconfiguring the bus to accommodate the added functions is projected to be $17,000. According to Flanagan, it might operate on solar power.

While this array of services is certainly forestalling a local health crisis amongst the homeless currently, experts like Mazza and Watts are not sanguine about the future.

“What happens, for example,” Mazza wonders, “when the rent moratorium ends? Here at Family Services, we’ve been getting 200 new welfare applications every day.” Many, he said, are from folks who’ve been told by the government ‘You can’t go to work anymore because of the pandemic.’ It’s not a huge leap to say that this is going to be a big problem.”

Hudson County has an estimated 800 to 1,000 individuals who are chronically homeless.

Columbia University economics professor Brendan O’Flaherty told CNN he foresees a 40–45 percent hike in homelessness nationwide by year’s end to beyond 800,000 as a direct result of so many businesses shutting down and the record number of unemployment claims that it will produce.

Watts is concerned about the impact of this scenario on families in particular.

“… because of higher rents, losing a job or, if they are still working, they can’t afford a large enough apartment,” he said, referring to those who will be laid off who still have children at home.

Uncle Sam’s commitment to funding affordable housing programs needs to be strengthened, said Watts. Funding levels peaked in 1979, he said, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development budgeted $77 billion for them nationally. By 1982, the budget fell to $50 billion “and we’ve never recovered,” he said. “Right now, only one of four households who qualify for assistance is funded. This is a moral issue.”

Photo by Marilyn Cintron

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What does “Defunding” the Police Mean?


In 2020, 43 percent of Jersey City’s salary budget will go toward the police department, reported Ward E Councilman James Solomon recently via email and Instagram.

In the aftermath of the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis Police Officer and the ensuing national protests to defund the police, this is no insignificant statistic. But how Jersey City should change its own spending and policing practices depends on which residents and politicians one asks.

“It really is about your priorities, and the mayor’s priority is in essence that the police are the most important thing that the city [has] and therefore they need a vast majority of the funding, and I just think that’s sort of out of balance,” said Solomon.

In the 2019 Municipal Budget, the Jersey City Police Department received $106,169,591 for salaries and wages, and $1,410,339 for “other expenses,” totaling $107,579,930. Renovations of police district buildings were budgeted to be $58,200,000.

Community programs, such as the Summer Food Program, which provides nutritious meals and snacks for children in low-income areas, received a budget of $711,126.

To Solomon, who represents the Downtown Jersey City neighborhood, “defunding the police”  means reallocating funds to anti-violence initiatives and to health and human services.

“For me, we need a strong police department, and at the same time, we need a strong, well-funded community that is specifically working on anti-violence initiatives for the community,” he said.

“We should fund recreation opportunities, we should fund better health services in the communities. Our police in essence have become a part of our first responder team to address homelessness, and I think that’s a big mistake because it’s not what they’re trained to do, and it has the potential to result in more negative outcomes. We should have trained outreach teams, and Jersey City has a trained outreach team, but it’s underfunded.”

Jersey City resident John Hines wants funds reallocated, too. But he also wants more community involvement from police officers.

“I don’t think the solution is defunding them, I think the solution is taking the allocated money and putting it [in] other places like back into the community,” he said. “If you look right now you have police on every corner in this town but most of us are afraid of them. Some of these cops will be on the same corner for months and months and nobody will even know their name.”

While Solomon and Hines may think of defunding the police as simply reallocating funds, Jersey City teenager A’dreana Williams disagrees.

“I think the term ‘defunding’ the police is used so that it can ease people into the idea of abolishing the police because anybody who can understand what’s happening to black people in this country and black people on this earth [can] understand that defunding the police is not enough, and we need to abolish the police,” she said.

Williams, an 18-year-old recent graduate of McNair Academic High School and former member of its Black Diaspora Club, explained that police reforms alone are not enough because the very structure of policing in the United States is oppressive.

“It’s an oppressive structure that cannot exist in order for true liberation to be,” she said.

According to Williams, McNair students are forced to go through metal detectors to enter the school and are then scanned with a handheld wand, given an identification card proving that they were students, and called by numbers.

When one of her friends was sent to a juvenile detention facility, he reported back that in terms of security apparatus, there was little to no difference between “juvie” and high school.

Compared to the massive resources dedicated to security, McNair has only one nurse to attend to the entire student population. According to Williams, the school used to have two, but one of them got laid off due to “cuts to the budget.”

So, what would Williams like to see from the Jersey City government in regard to policing? For starters a formal apology for “what happened on Bostwick Avenue,” referring to the May 6 fight on the street in Greenville that was widely criticized for the police’s use of pepper spray and batons. Beyond that, Williams would simply ask for less policing as a whole and for certain officers to be retrained to use their talents in different roles — community organizers, social services, etc.

“If the mayor prioritized us black people and his black citizens, he would say ‘There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to fix this problem. No matter how much it costs us, we will fix this issue because not only is it a Jersey City issue, it’s an American issue,” she said.

It’s an issue that will be discussed in the coming months.

Much of the June 12 City Council meeting was devoted to the subject of reforming the city’s police department. And at the urging of Council President Joyce Watterman, the council just voted 8-1 (with Councilman Richard Boggiano abstaining).to form a committee to examine a variety of different police procedures.

Boggiano did not respond to a request for comments.

But Jersey City is not monolithic in its criticism of the police.

Resident  Norman Hart favors reallocating money from the police toward after-school programs and the greater community but he is sympathetic toward the police and the purpose they serve.

“I feel we need to get rid of the bad cops within the community, but I feel like all police aren’t bad, and police should still have their job, because if we defund the police then how are we going to stay safe,” he said.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop agrees.

“Our officers serve as mentors, most of them live in the city; they are coaches, they do positive work. I don’t understand this defund the police conversation as we can invest more in social services for sure without defunding public safety,” the mayor Tweeted.

Flyers have been circulated around the city that urge residents to contact Mayor Fulop and not allow defunding, saying the Jersey City Police Department is “filled with heroes” and that the “city is safe because of their work.”

The source of the flyers could not be determined.

Then there’s a comparison with Newark, NJ, since its population is only six percent greater than that of Jersey City. Newark’s 2019 police department budget was $155,000,000 — 45 percent higher than Jersey City’s. That makes Jersey City’s public safety budget appear small.

As for Williams, a self-described “black child desiring to be prioritized,” the hope remains that local government will take heed of the overwhelming call for fundamental change.

“We need to start investing in a government that cares [rather] than a government that punishes,” she said.

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Protest in front of Greenville Precinct

Opinion: It’s Time for Community Policing


Shortly after Mayor Fulop’s election in 2013, he asked me to join the city’s Public Safety Advisory Board. It was a newly formed body in keeping with candidate Fulop’s stated goal of being more inclusive and transparent. The board, which would meet once a month, had no specific mandate or charter, but I figured why not. Maybe with my background as an assistant district attorney and criminal defense lawyer, I could make an impact.

One of my fellow board members was the late Bill Braker, an ex-cop, ex-freeholder, ex-con and, at that time, the president of the Jersey City NAACP. Bill came off as gruff and not a little intimidating. At one of the meetings, one of us (I can’t remember whether it was Bill or I) suggested that Jersey City implement community policing.  All of a sudden Bill became quite passionate. “You’ve got to get your people out on the street interacting with the community,” he told director James Shea. I chimed in in agreement.  Mr. Shea listened to us politely.

As an assistant district attorney, I’d witnessed New York City’s first foray into community policing in the late 1980s and become a believer.  It made perfect sense to me that the only way cops could gain trust and prevent and solve crime was to return to walking the beat, a practice that most U.S. police departments relied on for a good part of the twentieth century.

A few days after our meeting I went so far as to email Director Shea a New York Times article about the success of community policing in Camden, New Jersey. (Camden has not coincidentally been touted a lot lately for its success rebuilding its police department, lowering crime, and working with the community.)

I don’t know if Mr. Shea ever read it.

I couldn’t help but think of Bill as I walked up Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive this past Sunday afternoon gathering quotes for my colleague Alexandra Antonucci’s article on  defunding the police.  A twenty-something man who would only identify himself as “Slack” was blunt.

“They don’t do s— … all they doing is destructing our community and f—–g with us. They don’t protect, they don’t do none of that.”

Would he call the police for help? I asked. “We call each other … I can’t stand the mother f—–s.  It’s gotten worse.”

Then there was the voluble sixty-something John Hines.

“If you look at it right now, you have police on every corner in this town, but most of us are afraid of them. Some of these cops be on the same corner for months and months, but nobody even know their name. There’s no community involvement. Back in the sixties or fifties, everybody knew the community cop that walked the beat. When I came up there was the … PAL [Police Athletic League]. There is no longer that. It all starts with the [kids]. It all starts with educating the mindset of a different generation.”

A young woman named Alex Fahmy complained that the police “are not really doing their job” and “take very long to come to a crime scene.”

When asked whether the police are responsive to the community, she said “not at all.”

So here we are. It’s six years after Bill Braker and I broached the subject of community policing with the city’s public safety director, and people of color in Jersey City appear to have little trust in — or respect for — its police force. I don’t think Bill or I were ever under the illusion that our suggestions carried enough weight to change policy but I can’t help but wonder if things might have turned out differently had Jersey City embraced community policing back then.

One popular solution being bandied about is “de-escalation” training.  To that end, the mayor has proposed spending $1,000,000 on Seal Team Six-inspired “Tomahawk Strategic Solutions.” Given that Tomahawk’s “team” has all the ethnic diversity of a dinner party hosted by David Duke, it’s not surprising that local activists are pushing back and demanding a seat at the table.

There’s no doubt that de-escalation training is needed. Just last month, police descended on Bostwick Avenue in response to a fistfight (which had largely ended by the time they arrived) and ended up engaged in a full-blown brawl with local residents, several of whom ended up arrested and injured.  A shining example of de-escalation and community relations it was not.

But even if implemented perfectly, de-escalation training will only go so far.  Sure, it will keep bad situations from getting worse. But why not be more ambitious?  Why not try to prevent bad situations from occurring in the first place? Why not focus on building relationships and gaining the trust and cooperation of people in the neighborhoods you serve?  Why not get out from behind the glass of your patrol car or away from that corner you’re posted to? It seems obvious and eminently doable.

If I as a complete stranger can walk down the street and get people to open up and share their thoughts and concerns, as I did on Sunday, Jersey City police can too.

It’s time for community policing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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