Year-end lists tend to be sobering, reminding us of those we’ve lost and of lessons that can be learned before we look ahead to a new, hopefully brighter year.
As reported by Managing Editor Ron Zeitlinger recently, 18 people died in homicides in Hudson County in 2020. The youngest were 17 and, in fact, half of the victims were under age 30.
The tragedy of lives cut so short cannot be adequately expressed.
We can take some comfort in the fact that while Hudson’s population continues to grow, the number of homicides has remained about the same the last few years. By contrast, New Jersey saw a 23 percent increase in homicides last year – 287 as of Nov. 30, up from 234 over the same time period in 2019.
While it remains to be seen what effect the legalization of marijuana will have, gun violence and domestic violence are two areas where we as a community need to see more progress.
In Zeitlinger’s article, Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea called on the court system to be tougher on those who commit gun crimes. While we at the Journal are certainly taken aback when we write about someone who was convicted of murder being released from prison after just a few years -- left wondering what the value of a life has come to be -- we find Shea’s near-”throw away the key’' approach disconcerting.
More and more, it is becoming clear that prison isn’t the sole answer. It’s a remedy that’s unevenly distributed, affecting poor and minority communities more than is just.
BEYOND LIP SERVICE
But as a society, we grapple with how to translate lofty goals into everyday practice.
In New Jersey, we’ve done away with a bail system that left far too many innocent people and people accused of minor crimes to languish behind bars while awaiting trial, disrupting not just their lives but also the lives of their families, particularly if the person arrested was the breadwinner. But as soon as one suspect is accused of a second crime before his or her case goes to court, the kneejerk is all too often to call for the bail system to be reinstated.
To help stop the spread of COVID-19, we look to release low-level offenders from jails and prisons and vaccinate those who are left inside, but then we hear heartless pronouncements that somehow these human lives are less valuable than others.
We talk about second chances and pass legislation to that end, but there is so much more to do to make those chances real and, in doing so, cut down on the type of recidivism Shea laments.
For example, former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who heads the NJ Reentry Corporation, noted in a recent op-ed that in the month and a half from Nov. 4 to Dec. 29, only 20 percent of prisoners released through his program were properly signed up for benefits.
“Medical care, including treatment for diabetes, hepatitis B/C, HIV/AIDS; behavioral health care, addressing mental illness and the 78% suffering from addiction; and prescription drug coverage are essential to the 42% of participants suffering from co-occurring disorders,’' he wrote. “Without the stability and treatment that Medicaid affords, participants are unable to access physicians, pharmacists and the necessary care.”
When it comes to domestic violence, according to officials, at least three of the Hudson victims last year died at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. Their diverse backgrounds remind us that domestic violence can happen to anyone.
Thirty-five-year-old Garima Kothari of Jersey City, who was five months pregnant, was a successful local restaurateur.
Francis “Frannie” Villa , 22, also of Jersey City, was a postal worker who also helped out part-time in her brother and sister-in-law’s pet supply shop.
Kimberly Haston , 67, was found dead in the apartment she shared with her 65-year-old boyfriend, who has been charged with her murder.
In WomenRising, Sarah’s Daughters and others, Hudson County has strong programs for women and families affected by domestic violence, but journalists and others have noted a need for intervention programs for abusers.
To that end, Jersey City municipal prosecutor Jake Hudnut and assistant prosecutor Vishnu Khemraj announced the rollout last year of the Duluth Model to provide extensive counseling and resources for defendants accused of domestic violence.
We look forward to hearing results from the effort and, if positive, seeing it replicated around the county.
As with all issues, more education can also make a difference.
“The pandemic has put victims at higher risk along with the added stress of uncertainty, unemployment, health risks and childcare,” Joaneileen Coughlan, director of domestic violence services at WomenRising, told us last week. “These circumstances are dire. By educating our communities on the signs of domestic violence and available resources, more victims can seek help directly or through information shared by a family member, friend or colleague.”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, WomenRising’s staff managed to hold 170 presentations in 2020 for schools, corporations and other community partners, educating over 1,600 individuals in Hudson County, she added.
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, call WomenRising at 201-333-5700 24/7 or go to womenrising.org ; Sarah’s Daughters at 732-318-4116; the Jersey City Health and Human Services’ Division of Injury Prevention at 201-547-6560; or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Thehotline.org also provides a live chat service.