Op-Ed: New Jersey DEP’s Liberty State Park plan includes ‘blatant act of racism’


In an editorial, New Jersey NAACP President Richard T. Smith expresses his opinion on why the state Department of Environmental Protection’s latest Liberty State Park plan includes a “blatant act of racism.”

New Jersey NAACP President Richard T. Smith. Screenshot via YouTube.

The plan unveiled by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in March calls for bringing water from New York Harbor into Liberty State Park’s interior to create 165 acres of marshland and locating some new ballfields on the park’s south end, which is farther away from community and transit access.

NJ DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette last month said “Liberty State Park will never be a youth sports complex,” and would not include a large community center or track and field complex the community has long demanded.

I can’t imagine a more blatant act of racism than flooding a huge part of the park where we envisioned recreational opportunities for Black and brown children. The state is effectively telling our community that fish and birds are more important than our children.

Further, introducing water into an area that has historically flooded and was devastated by Sandy not only puts at risk any improvements to the park, but also the homes and communities adjacent to the park where Black and brown residents of Jersey City call home.

What we’re getting are swamps instead of athletic fields.

The People’s Park Foundation outlined a different vision for Liberty State Park that calls for a state-of-the-art community center with basketball courts, a swimming pool and an ice-skating rink, acres of world-class outdoor sports facilities, community gardens, an outdoor market, and a natural amphitheater for concerts.

We support the People’s Park vision for Liberty State Park that would create spaces that can be used by children in Jersey City.

While wealthier suburban communities have acres of athletic fields, communities of color often lack adequate green space and parks, forcing kids to play on crumbling asphalt basketball courts or, even worse, on busy streets and narrow sidewalks.

Additionally, why should student athletes in Jersey City be denied basic facilities to practice and play when you consider that Newark has two separate sports complexes that each seat approximately 5,000 and Paterson has Hinchliffe Stadium, which seats 10,000?

The plan being put forth by the state does very little to change that.

Despite the pressing need for recreational facilities for Jersey City’s youth, nothing has been built in the park since it opened in 1976.

A master plan released the following year recommended facilities in Liberty State Park to meet the recreational needs of the community, but few of its recommendations have been carried out and much of the park remains contaminated with toxic chromium, fenced off and closed to the public.

While investments have been made in other parts of Jersey City and Hudson County over the last 20 years, leading to historic growth and improved quality of life for many, why have leaders permitted more than half of Liberty State Park to remain fenced off, unusable, and threaten the community’s public health for nearly five decades.

Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Liberty State Park Conservation, Recreation, and Community Inclusion Act into law that sets aside $50 million to fund a two-year long Design Task Force to devise a master plan for the state park.

A date has not yet been set for a public meeting of the task force.

Black and brown families like those living in Greenville are sick and tired of other people dictating what is best for them.

Listen to what the Greenville community desires. They want a safe, indoor place for children to play basketball, swim, and skate year-round.

They want to be able to easily access a clean park filled with active recreational activities. They want Liberty State Park to be more than what it is, so it serves everyone’s needs.

That’s not an unreasonable ask.

Richard T. Smith
NJ NAACP President

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  1. After 45 years of the DEP claiming they are going to clean the park, Sam Pesin’s plan all along was to bury the contaminants and then flood the park into a swamp. He has never been a friend of Liberty State Park and never been an advocate for Jersey City people like his Father was.

  2. The plan for the Community Center is not even in the Park and people are still opposing it because they are so dumb they never even looked at the Plan that even the DEP was not opposed to. Sam Pesin wants to destroy the Park and prevent children from using it.

  3. I hope that Paul Fireman is paying good money to Richard Smith, or the NAACP, for this support. Anything that makes that billionaire’s pockets lighter are a good thing.

    LSP needs some ball fields, and renovations for sure. As long as Fireman doesn’t get a single acre or make a single dollar off of public land, I’m down for almost anything.

  4. TLDR: Privatize public land by crying “racism” because it makes me and my connected chums like Paul Firemen wealthier and helps get donations to the NAACP.

  5. The Democrat playbook of calling everything racist doesn’t seem to be hitting as hard as it used to.
    Will Fireman be able to pay the NAACP grifters enough or will common sense win out?

  6. First of all Liberty STATE Park is simply that, A State park. If the Residents of Jersey City want ballfields and recrecational facilities, they need to look to the city administration. As a former resident having grown up there, we HAD community centers in all the districts of the city. Today the community centers are gone. The community pools last I had known there are two of I believe three left, One in the Heights and Pavonia on Westside ave. The Bergen pool is gone and never returned. There were community centers around the city where the CETA program gave kids summer jobs, thats gone!! You talk about solving the problems in the community, but you throw money at the issue that plague the city. Please stop!! The root off the problem is that there are no outlets for the youth to have a positive impact on their lives. Instead they are left with nowhere to turn. If You really want to change the city for the better, the city need to stop the gentrification that is forcing the less fortunate to make choices they never wanted to make. Bring back the local parks and community recreation centers. Bring back the summer jobs programs for the youth. Give our children a place they can call home and have pride in community. The shame of it all is that my words will fall on deaf ears as so many other things in the city.