January 10, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 22
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New Jersey officially apologizes for slavery

New Jersey became the first Northern state to apologize for slavery, as legislators approved a resolution Monday expressing “profound regret” for the state’s role in the practice.

The Assembly and the Senate both voted overwhelmingly to approve the resolution, which expresses the Legislature’s opinion without requiring action by the governor.

“This resolution does nothing more than say New Jersey is sorry about its shameful past,” said Assemblyman William Payne, a Democrat who sponsored the measure.

Payne said an apology would comfort black residents, who make up 14.5 percent of New Jersey’s population of 8.7 million.

The resolution offers an apology “for the wrongs inflicted by slavery and its aftereffects in the United States of America.”

It states that in New Jersey, “the vestiges of slavery are ever before African American citizens, from the overt racism of hate groups to the subtle racism encountered when requesting health care, transacting business, buying a home, seeking quality public education and college admission, and enduring pretextual traffic stops and other indignities.”

Legislators in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia have issued formal apologies for slavery.

According to the resolution, New Jersey had one of the largest slave populations in the Northern colonies and was the last state in the Northeast to formally abolish slavery, not doing so until 1846.

The state didn’t ratify the constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery until January 1866, a month after it had already become federal law.

Opponents said the apology was a meaningless gesture.

“History is what it is,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris. “It is not something for which anyone can or should be expected to atone. No victims remain. No victimizers survive. Slavery ended 152 years ago.”

FBI data: U.S. violent crime on the decline

WASHINGTON — Crime rates dipped slightly for the first half of 2007, the FBI reported Monday, signaling a stop to a two-year increase in violence nationwide.

Violent crime — including murders, rapes and robberies — dropped by 1.8 percent between January and June last year, the FBI’s preliminary data show. Property crimes also decreased, including a 7.4 percent drop in car thefts and a decline in arsons by nearly 10 percent.

The FBI data, compiled from local and state police departments around the nation, offer a snapshot of crime rates over the six-month period. The numbers will not be finalized until later this year.

Still, the data appears to end two years of rising violent crime rates, which increased by 2.3 percent in 2005 and 1.9 percent in 2006.

“The latest numbers from the FBI are encouraging,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said. “The report suggests that violent crime remains near historic low levels.”

Carr acknowledged some communities continue to face violence, and said the Justice Department “is committed to assisting our state and local partners in combating violent crime wherever it exists.”

The data show that violent crime dropped dramatically in big cities with 1 million or more residents, where murders decreased by 6.5 percent and rapes by 14 percent.

Smaller cities and rural areas, however, saw a slight 1.1 percent increase in violence. And murder rates jumped by 5 percent in suburbs and by 3.2 percent in cities with between 50,000 and 100,000 residents, the FBI reported.

Lawyers deliver closing arguments in action on decade-old Conn. desegregation case

HARTFORD, Conn. — Closing arguments have been made in the latest court action involving Connecticut’s landmark school desegregation case, Sheff vs. O’Neill, in a ruling made 11 years ago.

The question of whether the city’s schools must be desegregated was settled by the state Supreme Court ruling in the case in 1996, although the high court left it to the Sheff plaintiffs and the state to figure out how to do it.

The two sides reached an agreement on a four-year plan in 2003: It was left largely to Hartford to implement the terms of the settlement by building magnet schools and sending students to suburban schools through the “Open Choice” program.

However, the numerical goals of the 2003 agreement specifying levels of integration were not met, and after the accord expired last year, the plaintiffs returned to court.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued last Thursday that a detailed court order should be issued to specify what the state must do to end the racial isolation.

“We’re not asking for mandatory busing,” Dennis Parker, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, argued. “We are asking that a comprehensive plan be put into effect.”

A lawyer for Hartford urged Judge Marshall K. Berger Jr. to appoint a monitor to oversee the desegregation case.

John Rose, Hartford’s lawyer, called the 2003 stipulated agreement between the state and the plaintiffs “a failure.” Rose asked for judicial oversight beyond the role that the court has played in the past.

“We need a plan and it needs to be monitored by the court. It can take us places where we have never gone before,” Rose said. “This case is about children who are going nowhere fast.”

An attorney for the state of Connecticut argued that no order or monitor is necessary or desirable.

Ralph Urban, arguing for the state, opposed any judicial intervention, saying a court-issued comprehensive plan to desegregate Hartford’s schools would lock resources into specific programs, making it impossible to move them into areas where the money would be better spent.

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