I am sure by now that everyone has heard about the incident caught on a camera phone in early July where paramedic trainees at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) were forced to dress up in white sheets, resembling members of the Ku Klux Klan. The trainees were on clinical rotation under the supervision of UMDNJ EMS workers as part of a certification course at the hospital.
While I am pleased to know that the group of paramedics who were caught on camera forcing the trainees to dress up have all been fired, it is imperative that university officials get to the bottom of what happened.
This story is of particular interest to the membership of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus (NJLBC), because the actions that UMDNJ takes in spearheading this investigation will determine how we react to the situation. Attorney General Anne Milgram has said that she is looking into the matter, and while I’m confident that her office will do a thorough investigation, the NJLBC will continue to monitor the situation for any new developments.
As the President of the NJLBC, I met with UMDNJ President William Owen, along with other African-American leaders, including NJ NAACP President James Harris, North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen President Rev. Jethro James, and my fellow Caucus members, Assemblywomen L. Grace Spencer and Cleopatra Tucker, to find out if this despicable situation was a single occurrence or if other acts of racism were extending throughout UMDNJ. We also met to discuss what actions will be taken to prevent this type of racism from happening again.
My fellow civil rights leaders and I have discussed holding a hearing in order to raise some questions that have not yet been answered. Although we will hold off on our hearing until the investigation has been concluded, we, as a Caucus, will remain vigilant against racist acts throughout the State.
The members of NJLBC refuse to sit back and allow racism to run rampant, but especially not in our institutions of higher learning. It is our job to fight for the rights of the constituents in the districts we represent, but also for the rights of African-Americans throughout the State.
I would like to commend President Owen and the Board of Trustees who quickly responded to this situation and have done a good job making the public aware of its ongoing investigation. Until the formal investigation has been concluded, I hope that the public will not make any widespread assumptions about others at UMDNJ or in the EMT training program.
I want to reassure the public, that the NJLBC will not simply sit back and allow allegations of racism to go unanswered.
Coincidentally, the racist act at UMDNJ occurred around the same time that concerns were raised and a lawsuit was filed with regards to civil rights violations in State Police promotions. For years, allegations of racism, profiling and other discriminatory acts have plagued the New Jersey State police. In fact, the federal government even monitored traffic stops made by the State Police. Although, the Governor and the federal government has considered ending the monitoring process, this lawsuit over State Police promotions has begun to raise questions in my mind as to whether the problems with racism within the State Police have ended.
Over the coming days and weeks, I hope to have a full understanding as to the despicable incident at UMDNJ. Once we have our answers we can know better how to proceed. As leaders, we have a responsibility to try to end social injustice. The NJLBC is prepared to take any action needed to ensure something like the racist act at UMDNJ never happens again.
The NJLBC has always worked hard combating racism and intolerance in New Jersey. ###