Binghamton community members and Binghamton University students gathered at the Binghamton City Court on Monday morning for the first court appearance of four protestors who were arrested at last week’s Columbus Day Parade protest.
On Columbus Day, about 20 people linked arms to create a human chain on Court Street with the goal of stopping the parade for ten minutes — a minute for each of the 10 inmate deaths that have taken place at the Broome County Jail since 2011. After four protesters were arrested at the parade for disorderly conduct, Progressive Leaders Of Tomorrow (PLOT), the organizers of the protest, created a Facebook event titled, “Pack the Court for Binghamton Protesters,” which called for citizens to attend the arraignment.
New York state law holds that disorderly conduct is a violation, not a crime, that can carry a sentence of up to 15 days in county jail and a fine of up to $250. At the Binghamton City Court, students, members of PLOT and community members crowded the courtroom to witness all four protesters plead not guilty to the violation. They were subsequently released and are due back in court on Nov. 4.
Since the protest, community members and students have taken strong stances on both sides.
Only a few hours after the Columbus Day Protest, Binghamton Mayor Richard David held a press conference to say the protesters did not coordinate their actions with the local police or city officials, which made the protesters’ behaviors “radical and reckless.”
“If they were on the side holding up banners or signs … it’s a public event,” David said. “But you don’t have the right to all of a sudden interfere with the function and administration of the parade.”
BU College Republicans wrote an open letter to PLOT condemning their protest at the parade. According to John Restuccia, president of College Republicans and a junior majoring in political science, it was the protesters’ disregard for the community that prompted the student group to release the letter.
“The overall outrage we felt was due to the fact that individuals were disturbing the peace during a community event that was not a political event and had nothing to do with the prison,” Restuccia wrote in an email. “This was mostly high school bands, children and families coming together to celebrate Italian American heritage as well as the overall community.”
However, Brian McQuaid, a junior majoring in anthropology, said the protesters’ actions were successful because they brought awareness to their claims of misconduct in the Broome County Jail system.
“There was an extreme amount of coverage and it got people to talk about these issues,” McQuaid said. “More people know that this is an issue and know what’s going on. People need to think about this every day and realize that this could happen to anybody and we need to be consciously aware of that at all times.”
Sham-Al-Din Yasin Harper, 27, of Binghamton, was one of the four people arrested at the Columbus Day Parade protest. After the court session, Harper was joined by a few others for a rally outside of Binghamton City Hall. During the rally, Harper said two of his friends died when they were in the jail system.
“For people to come out in front of the community, try to isolate people, try to shut people down who are fighting and defending their community, fuck that,” Harper said. “We’re not going to be silenced. You tried to silence us and we will not be silenced.”
In the College Republicans’ open letter, members wrote they support the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. However, they argued the parade was neither the time nor place to protest.
“Without question, all Americans should be able to express themselves without fear of persecution,” the letter states. “But that is not the same as intimidation and fear-mongering masquerading as free speech.”
The group also wrote they were open to discussion about the situation with anyone who wished to approach them. According to Restuccia, there has yet to be a response.
McQuaid said the charges should be dropped.
“They were expressing their right to protest and they’re expressing real grievances that haven’t been expressed in any other way,” McQuaid said. “You can just write to the mayor or the sheriff, but the conditions inside the jail haven’t been changed in over a decade. There needs to be escalation.”