Hundreds of people were in Downtown Binghamton on Monday to watch the 60th-annual “Tournament of the Bands” and Columbus Day Parade when a group of about 20 people linked arms across the street, bringing a halt to the event.
The group was headed by members of Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT), which includes Binghamton University students and local residents. They were joined by other unaffilated community members to protest against the recent deaths at the Broome County Jail. One protestor, Anthony Georgiou, a sophomore majoring in anthropology, said he heard about the protest during a College Progressives meeting and was interested in participating after hearing demonstrators speak at another jail protest on Sept. 1.
“There were a number of people who spoke at the [Sept. 1] action whose family members or even themselves suffered under the malpractices occurring in that institution,” Georgiou said. “I felt that it is a really important issue that hit a lot of people in this community, so it was important to get the word out there.”
But as a result of the showing, four protestors were arrested, and demonstration was met with backlash from government officials and some community members, including Mayor Rich David, who made a statement over microphone to the crowd after the protest was cleared. Later, David also released a press statement.
“You have hundreds of kids who have practiced to be in this competition,” David said on Tuesday. “It was really selfish and disgusting that these individuals would choose this particular venue to try to protest.”
Emily Jablon, 35, of Binghamton, also condemned the group’s actions. Jablon, who participated in the parade with a group of mosaic artists, described the parade as “joyful” and “happy” before the protest.
“It was scary to say the least,” Jablon said. “We were stopped on the bridge while cop cars flew by us, we could see physical interaction at the end of the bridge, and children were crying. Everyone protesting [had] masked faces from what we could see.”
A few members of the protest did cover their faces, including a man who led the protest with a megaphone. PLOT members discussed the demonstration on Facebook on Tuesday, writing that they succeeded in their goals.
“Yesterday’s action was an undeniable win for those of us in the community attempting to dismantle oppressive power structures and institutions,” PLOT’s post read. “The politicians and law enforcement present yesterday only served to reinforce their incompetence and inefficiency to the public.”
Their official goal, according to the same post, was to stop the parade for a minute for each of the 10 recent deaths of Broome County Jail inmates. In total, the parade was stopped for approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
Although PLOT saw the protest as a success, Robert Murphy, Binghamton’s director of economic development, said it accomplished the opposite.
“If they want, they can make a statement on Facebook, on their own publication, with leaflets — there are many other ways to get your point across,” Murphy said. “And frankly, I think if nothing else, they hurt their cause in the process of just turning people off.”
Nevertheless, other local officials, including Binghamton City Democratic Chairwoman Teri Rennia, voiced support for the protestors, writing that “civil disobedience is a cornerstone of our society.”
Elizabeth Nutig, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, participated in the protest and said she experienced a lot of pushback at first, but also some support afterward, with some people shaking demonstrators’ hands and thanking them.
“Some people came up to us and were asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Nutig said. “Two people came up and tried to rip the poster from us, which I thought was a pretty violent reaction to a nonviolent protest … The police started showing up and more people started yelling. I personally didn’t interact with the police, but some[one] near me I know did.”
The protestors are being arraigned in Broome County Court on Monday, and PLOT created a Facebook event titled, “Pack the Court for Binghamton Protesters.” Nutig and Georgiou said they will both be attending.