Saturday, January 5, 2008

New Jersey's on the come-up!

I’ve never been a big fan of New Jersey. For me, it’s simply a road to New York, but due to recent developments, I may have to rethink this stance.

Last month, New Jersey lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty and on December 17th, Governor Jon Corzine signed it into law. This makes New Jersey, the first state to legislatively end capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to restore the penalty in 1976.

I don’t believe in the death penalty, never have. It doesn’t work and hasn’t proved to be a deterrent to the country’s most heinous criminals. I also don’t think any man (or woman) has the right to condemn another person to death.

New Jersey is also poised to become the first Northern state to apologize for slavery. Back in October, I wrote a post about the power of a heartfelt apology and I’ve always been vexed by the United States reticence in offering an apology to African Americans for slavery, but legislators in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia have taken it upon themselves to issue formal slavery apologies. Assemblyman William Payne, is sponsoring this bill, and on the State House floor said, “This is not too much to ask from the state of New Jersey, All that is being requested of New Jersey is to say three simple words: We are sorry.”

Of course, Republican lawmakers wonder if an apology would be relevant. Assemblyman Richard Merkt went on to ask, “Who living today is guilty of slave holdings and thus capable of accepting the apology? So how is a real apology even remotely possible, much less meaningful, given the long absence of both oppressor and victim?” It sounds like Assemblyman Dick hasn’t heard of institutional racism. I guess the Assemblyman and his kin hasn’t benefited from the spoils of slavery; while my tribesman have struggled to move beyond both overt and covert policies established to limit and stymie our potential, simply because of the color of our skin.

To date, the U.S. government has issued public apologies to Japanese Americans for internment during WWII and to Holocaust survivors; and in 2004 finally submitted a long overdue Resolution of Apology to Native Americans.

Now, singularly these two developments might not say much, but collectively it demonstrates New Jersey has a progressive bent that’s refreshing. For me, a civilized society is one, which actively values and respects its constituency and is not above correcting a wrong.

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