In the midst of a seemingly unending series of national tragedies, New Jersey is poised to take its place at the forefront of gun control protections. Governor Phil Murphy worked with state lawmakers to strengthen our gun policies by enacting eight different pieces of legislation over the last year.
He’s also touring the state to gather more information about possible next steps like: strengthening background checks and providing more training to identify straw purchases; making it more difficult for people to evade our state’s gun purchase restrictions; and exploring holistic approaches to tackle gang violence.
The governor is honestly looking for policies that will have a direct impact on New Jersey’s high-crime cities like Camden.
Yet by all appearances the safety of Camden’s residents is taking a backseat to political efforts to protect the South Jersey machine. A host of elected officials, from Mayor Frank Moran to county freeholders, has attacked the governor in starkly personal terms, including accusing him of waging a “proxy war against Camden."
Murphy appointed an independent task force to examine the effectiveness of the state’s corporate tax subsidy program, which has rewarded politically connected companies with lucrative tax subsidies if they relocate their offices to Camden. Among the companies that have benefited from the program is Conner Strong, an insurance firm chaired by George Norcross, the unelected political boss of South Jersey.
Norcross and his allies are fighting the probe, which has already raised troubling questions about how millions of dollars’ worth of tax credits were awarded. Moran joined with a group of South Jersey officials to declare that the governor was unwelcome in Camden because he dared to commission an investigation into the questionable program, which is now apparently the subject of a state grand jury inquiry.
Their intransigence came to a head when the mayor failed to attend an event on gun safety hosted by the governor. But as the petty political posturing continues, the body count in Camden continues to rise.
As of May, Camden’s murder rate is on track to more than double over last year’s.
These troubling statistics play out in heartbreaking ways.
Woodrow Wilson High School has had to bury four students and recent graduates over the past year as a result of the type of gun violence Murphy has set out to address.
It is unimaginable that our city’s elected officials would reject help from the state in the face of the apocalyptic toll this plague is wreaking on our city.
But to acknowledge the public safety crisis in Camden would also mean acknowledging that outside of the shiny new corporate office towers going up along the waterfront, Camden is not rising.
Yet crime is. The millions of dollars promised to these companies by the state haven’t stopped the gun violence epidemic, haven’t helped the shocking unemployment rate, and haven’t provided our children relevant recreation opportunities — much less the hope that they can break through generational cycles of poverty and despair.
Instead of instigating another petty political feud with the governor to benefit the machine, Camden’s elected officials would do well to work with Murphy on his comprehensive plan to address the public safety crisis and develop a real plan for “Camden Rising.”