Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the symbolic end of American slavery, is a day to reflect on the ongoing struggle for civil rights and full equality for African Americans in our country. The day has taken on even greater significance this year, with the repeated unjustified killings of black men and women by police drawing people out to the streets by the thousands to protest systemic racism and inequality. 

Throughout the country, people are rising up. Young and old, black and qhite, male and female, straight and gay and all other varieties of people are joining hands and pledging themsevles to the fight for a more just society. They have sometimes been met with extreme violence, and even been subject to an attack directed by the President of the United States against peaceful protesters outside the White House. But the people are standing their ground, and it’s time for leaders in Washington, in state capitals and in our own communities to listen to them. 

Here in New Jersey, I’m proud to say we’re doing more than listening — we’re leading. It started with the peaceful marches on the streets of Newark, Camden and many places in between, where we have shown the nation what police-community cooperation and respect looks like. It has continued to Trenton, where Governor Phil Murphy, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and myself are working with reform advocates to bring transformational changes to our criminal justice system. It’s in Washington, where Senator Cory Booker is leading the charge for national policing reform. And it’s being seen in town halls in communities large and small, where many elected officials are taking a hard look at use-of-force policies and beginning long overdue conservations with community members.

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and, most recently, of Rayshard Brooks have shaken our nation to its very core. The response has been overwhelming, with people joining together to proclaim once and for all that Black lives matter. That our young men and women are not disposable. That we must have change, and we must have it now. 

The struggle for equality is not over. There is much more work to do, even beyond police reform. Our voting rights continue to be threatened, we still face systematic barriers to homeownership and wealth creation, and we continue to confront the legacy of slavery in our country and all that it has wrought. 

But, on this Juneteenth, I am full of hope because the possibility of bringing more equity, more justice and more humanity to our system is before us. Now, we must all do whatever we can to achieve it. 

Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver