Urban News Staff Reports

Over 450 cars recently gathered from all areas of New Jersey for the #SayTheirNames Funeral Procession and Call to Action. The procession honored those who died from COVID-19 in the state’s prisons and organizers say Gov. Phil Murphy and state officials are to blame

Some serving only a year for minor offenses, the victims – who were disproportionately Black and Latino – were named. The #SayTheirNames event was supported by a coalition of 72 organizations made up of families, friends, community partners, and faith leaders. Attendees stood in solidarity to shed light on the system they say impacts Black and Brown communities.

“Due to your reckless disregard for human life [Governor Murphy], it was you who accepted the role of executioner which deprived the families represented here today of our right to ever see our loved ones again, and it was you who determined what their last mile of the way would be. But I have faith that justice will prevail and their last mile of the way will NOT be in vain,” said Trena Parks, whose sister Darrell died of COVID-19 in April

There are over 18,000 inmates in New Jersey’s prison system with no ability to practice basic protective measures during this deadly global pandemic. Instead, many prisoners face rampant exposure to this virus. They are forced into confined, overpopulated cells with no ability to disinfect, distance or speak out against the conditions they are facing.

“We are here to honor the human beings who have suffered from a punishment that was not delivered by a judge, was not appropriate to their crimes and, tragically, avoidable,” said Reverend Charles Boyer of Salvation and Social Justice, one of the lead sponsors of the Procession. “We say their names to remember our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, and neighbors who fell victim to Governor Murphy’s callous inaction. I’ve been ministering to mothers whose sons have been denied soap, fathers who learn that their sons died while handcuffed to their own deathbed.”

NJCAIC, Salvation and Social Justice and the Latino Action Network, along with our coalition partners, are demanding that Murphy, the NJ DOC, and Legislature release a thorough and transparent assessment on the increasingly dangerous conditions in NJ prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic, implement a wide-scale  release program and COVID credit to eliminate a year off each inmate’s sentence, as well as provide immediate protections for people who are incarcerated and prison workers across the criminal justice system.

Reports indicate that in April, Murphy signed an executive order allowing for the furlough of at-risk inmates including those age 60 and over, inmates with high risk medical conditions and inmates whose sentences expire in three months.

“When the COVID-19 crisis hit, New Jersey – like much of the nation and the world —we faced an unprecedented situation that included the lack of access to testing,” said DOC Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks, Esq. “Despite these challenges, with the safety of our employees and those in our custody in mind, the NJDOC immediately took action to mitigate the spread of the virus from increasing access to PPE and sanitization products, to modifying our operations to accommodate for social distancing guidance — all while working on the back-end to realize the goal of universal testing.”

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